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High-powered Saints visit struggling Raiders

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High-powered Saints visit struggling Raiders

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The New Orleans Saints have overcome an 0-4 start and the distractions from the bounty scandal to fight their way right back into position for a possible late-season playoff run.

First they have to get their record back to .500.

All that stands between the high-powered Saints and that modest goal is a struggling Oakland Raiders team that has allowed 97 points the past two weeks and matched a franchise-worst for points allowed in last week's 55-20 loss at Baltimore.

``Man, if Baltimore can put up 55, you don't even want to see what New Orleans can do,'' Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said.

The Saints (4-5) have done quite a bit since the 0-4 start under a cloud from the bounty allegations that led to a season-long suspension for coach Sean Payton and other punishments that have been a distraction all year. With four wins in the past five games, including a 31-27 victory last week over previously unbeaten Atlanta, New Orleans has worked its way back into contention.

But there is little margin for error. The schedule gets much tougher after Sunday's game in Oakland (3-6) with the following three games against division leaders, meaning the Saints can ill-afford a slipup against the struggling Raiders.

``When you dig yourself a hole like we have, every game you play is going to be critical,'' interim coach Joe Vitt said. ``Anything other than our best effort and we're going to have a long Sunday.''

The Saints have been close to their best in recent weeks. After uncharacteristically throwing five interceptions the first three games, Drew Brees has completed 71 percent of his passes the last two weeks with five TDs and only one interception. The running game, energized by Chris Ivory, has produced 288 yards on the ground the past two weeks.

And even the porous defense has stepped up of late, holding Philadelphia to 13 points two weeks ago and coming up with the late goal-line stand that sealed the win against the Falcons.

``They're back in the groove,'' Raiders cornerback Ron Bartell said. ``They're doing what they normally do. ... He's putting up huge numbers. They're doing a better job of protecting him. He's getting the ball out of his hands. His receivers are making plays. Basically the normal New Orleans Saints offense.''

Which is what's so scary for the Raiders.

The Raiders have been up-and-down defensively this season, getting gashed on the ground early in the season by Miami and then getting overwhelmed by Peyton Manning and Denver before a bye week.

Oakland then put together a fairly strong three-week stretch, holding down Matt Ryan and the Falcons to one offensive touchdown and beating one-win Jacksonville and Kansas City in back-to-back weeks.

But the last two weeks have been as bad as it's ever been defensively in Oakland. Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin ran for 251 yards in a 42-32 win two weeks ago. That was followed by the drubbing in Baltimore when Joe Flacco picked the Raiders apart for 341 yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens matched the most points ever allowed by the Raiders.

``I know the team that we're going to face is not the team that gave up 55 points last week or 42 points against Tampa,'' Brees said.

``It's a play here, it's a play there, it's a big play here, a big play there that can typically affect the outcome of a game. This defense has a lot of very talented players on it. They have played very, very well at times. I know that, for us, we're going to have to play our best game and worry about our execution, and that's what we're focused on.''

That Oakland is struggling so much on defense comes as a bit of a surprise for the Saints, who know Oakland first-year coach Dennis Allen so well. Allen spent five years as a defensive assistant in New Orleans, helping the team win the Super Bowl following the 2009 season as defensive backs coach.

After spending one year as defensive coordinator in Denver the 40-year-old Allen got his first head coaching gig this year in Oakland.

``He deserves it, man,'' Saints safety Roman Harper said. ``He's a great coach. He understands everything it takes to win and I know he'll get those guys going. They've had some ups and downs but at the end of the day that's going to happen, especially when you're a new coach somewhere. He's going to have them just fine though.''

Allen coached four years in Atlanta before joining Payton's first staff on the Saints in 2006. He credited that experience with getting him to where he is now.

``I started coaching in the NFL in Atlanta, but I grew up in the NFL in New Orleans,'' he said. ``I got a lot of good memories there, and we were able to win a championship. So it was a big part of my development as a coach.''

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AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Metairie, La., contributed to this report

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Joe Flacco and his wife welcome fourth child, first daughter

Joe Flacco and his wife welcome fourth child, first daughter

OWINGS MILLS — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and his wife, Dana, became proud parents for the fourth time Tuesday with the birth of their daughter, Evelyn Renee, the team announced. It’s the first girl for the Flaccos, who have three sons — Stephen (4), Daniel (3) and Francis (1).

“It was definitely different,” Flacco told the team’s website of watching his daughter’s birth. “Seeing a girl come out after three boys was a bit of a shock. Everybody is beyond overjoyed, beyond pumped. I’m sure there will be a ton of pink flooding into our house. It will be interesting to see how the boys handle her.”

Flacco said he was hoping for a girl.

“I was keeping my fingers crossed,” Flacco said. “You hear fathers getting scared about not having boys, but I was starting to get to the point that I was scared about not having a little girl. It’s just something I wanted.”

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Kelechi Osemele says he never came close to re-signing with Ravens

Kelechi Osemele says he never came close to re-signing with Ravens

OWINGS MILLS — Raiders left guard Kelechi Osemele had plenty to say during a Wednesday conference call before facing his former team, the Ravens, on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Osemele said he didn’t come close to re-signing with the Ravens during free agency in March, because their offer wasn’t competitive. Osemele signed a five-year, $58 million contract with Oakland, which included $25.4 million guaranteed.

Osemele said he knew that his fourth season with the Ravens would be his last, after talking to other ex-Ravens who had departed during free agency like 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith.

“Honestly, we didn’t get close at all,” said Osemele. “I pretty much knew right away I was going somewhere else, because some of the things that were being brought back to me, were, borderline they can hurt your feelings.

“The Raiders were very up front about how badly they wanted me. It was a pretty much a no-brainer. I talked to Torrey Smith about it and some other guys. They kind of told me that it might be a situation where Baltimore won’t offer me enough to stay. It’s something that does happen with that organization, because they’re able to find so many young players.”

Rookie left guard Alex Lewis has replaced Osemele in the Ravens’ starting lineup, playing next to another rookie, left tackle Ronnie Stanley. But with the Ravens unbeaten (3-0) and the Raiders off to a 2-1 start, Osemele was looking forward to competing against players he used to practice against every day.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Osemele said. “You couldn’t really finish through and pancake (during practice). Just to go out and talk a little trash and compete against those guys is going to be fun.”

Asked for any Ravens in particular he looked forward to pancake blocking, Osemele chuckled and said, “You’ll see on Sunday.”

Osemele said he enjoyed his time in Baltimore and that he wasn’t surprised the Ravens were 3-0.

“It was great,” Osemele said of his time in Baltimore. “I still have a lot of friends there. I come back when I can. I just like the city. I had fun there off the field. I love the organization and believe in what they do for the community, but I’m somewhere else now. I won a Super Bowl in Baltimore. I already know what the organization’s all about. There’s a standard of excellence there, something that we’re trying to have here in Oakland.”

Osemele added that there was “one coach in particular” he didn’t see eye-to-eye with in Baltimore, but didn’t specify which coach it was. But judging from his comments, it’s safe to say Osemele is looking forward to facing the Ravens.

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