CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ed Reed couldn’t resist the temptation following another trademark interception, delivering a perfect lateral that traveled several yards and connected with Dawan Landry in stride.
And Landry performed the honors, dashing up the sideline before diving into the end zone in the fourth quarter.
"It felt good," said Landry, former Louisiana high school quarterback. "It was kind of like we were in high school again. It was like All-River Parish. When he pitched it, I knew I was going to score."
Reed’s 50th career interception staked the Ravens to a 17-point lead with 4:59 remaining in their 37-13 victory Sunday before a large contingent of traveling Baltimore fans at Bank of America Stadium.
"That was vintage Ravens," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said of a flip that Reed compared jokingly to the famous Music City Miracle play. "I loved it."
The touchdown was a signal of reality being restored as Panthers journeyman quarterback Brian St. Pierre’s dreams of a fantasy upset were eliminated minutes after he heaved a surprising 88-yard touchdown pass to make this game uncomfortably close for the Ravens.
Eleven seconds later on the ensuing play from scrimmage after Landry’s score, St. Pierre uncorked another interception for a touchdown with All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis rumbling in for a 24-yard touchdown.
That put the game further out of distance for the Ravens, placing a bold exclamation point on a win over one of the worst football teams in the league. The defense finally finished off St. Pierre, an eighth-year pro making his first NFL start that was only signed to the roster a week ago after being a stay-at-home dad for several months.
"It was only a matter of time," said Reed, who returned his fourth interception of the season 19 yards with Landry carrying it the remaining 23 yards to the end zone. "We knew Brian St. Pierre was only with the team for this week. We knew they would be very cautious with the ball and play to their defense, which they did and hung around. It was just a matter of time for guys to be in the places they needed to be."
The consecutive interceptions for touchdowns had only happened once previously for Baltimore when Landry and Ronnie Prude accomplished the feat in a game in New Orleans four years ago.
Even though the Ravens (7-3) allowed the downtrodden Panthers (1-9) to hang around far too long, they still rebounded well enough from a heartbreaking last-minute loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
They remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) for first place atop the AFC North.
"It don’t get no better," Lewis said. "You listen to all the stuff said last week and now you come back. We knew this team was going to fight with everything they had. As a team, we got the victory we were supposed to get."
For the Ravens, this game marked the first time in weeks that they hadn’t squandered a fourth-quarter lead.
They lost leads in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and the Falcons.
"Yeah, definitely to play like this in the fourth quarter and close the game out is huge," Reed said. "Coming off the loss against Atlanta, we want to build on this and build on the season and play better and close out games. We need to do it from start to finish if we want to compete in late December."
The Ravens scored 17 unanswered points after the Panthers closed the gap to 20-13 four seconds into the fourth quarter when St. Pierre threw his first NFL touchdown pass on an 88-yard bomb to rookie wide receiver David Gettis.
Gettis beat cornerback Josh Wilson, who allowed the game-winning touchdown pass against Atlanta, with Baltimore unsuccessfully attempting to pressure St. Pierre.
"We had a five-man rush on it, so it was kind of a run-pass blitz we had on," coach John Harbaugh said. "Josh got a little nosy on it, and obviously got behind it. That was a disappointment."
The score appeared to act as a wakeup call for the defense.
Without the touchdown to Gettis, St. Pierre had only 85 passing yards as he completed 13 of 28 throws for two interceptions and a 48.7 passer rating.
"After the bomb that he threw, at that point, we said, ‘That’s enough,’" Suggs said. "We let them play around long enough and we got the job done."
Between two lost fumbles in the first half, the defense allowing Mike Goodson to rush for 120 yards on 22 carries, converting just 2 of 11 third downs, dropped passes and not capitalizing on St. Pierre’s lack of game experience until the very end, the Ravens made this game far more competitive than expected.
After building a 17-3 halftime lead, the Ravens allowed the Panthers to creep back into the game.
"It should have been a bigger lead if not for the turnovers," Harbaugh said. "In the third quarter, we hit a lull. To give up the long touchdown pass is something we just can’t have. It let them back in the game and made it tighter than it should have been.
"For those two guys on defense to close it out the way they did is impressive. We could have played a lot better, but we’re happy with the direction we’re going."
Quarterback Joe Flacco was sharp, especially in the first quarter when he threw his lone touchdown pass on a 56-yard lob to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh on his first throw of the game.
Flacco completed 24 of 33 passes for 301 yards and a 110.8 passer rating. He didn’t throw his first incompletion until early in the second quarter, completing his first eight passes.
Eventually, though, Flacco cooled off after passing for 213 yards by halftime.
"We felt like we could have played better in the second half, even the first half," Flacco said. "These teams are all good. You can’t look at their record. When you let them have some success, they’re going to play even harder and harder. I don’t think we played as great as we wanted to at times, and we’re going to have to look at that, but it was good to come down here and get a win."
The Ravens achieved lot of milestones statistically, including Lewis’ 30th interception, Houshmandzadeh’s 600th career catch and 900 career receptions for Derrick Mason and Flacco tying Vinny Testaverde for the most touchdown passes (51) in franchise history.
Plus, kicker Billy Cundiff booted three field goals. His 49-yarder in the fourth quarter gave Baltimore a 23-13 lead after Gettis’ touchdown.
St. Pierre was a surprise choice by coach John Fox to get the start over rookie Tony Pike with Jimmy Clausen out with a concussion. Afterward, he announced that Clausen will regain the job next week if he’s healthy.
The Panthers had just 39 passing yards heading into the fourth quarter.
"Even though I haven’t played a lot in this league, I have a lot of pride doing a job and doing my job right," St. Pierre said. "I wish I did it a little better . I didn’t want to be the reason we lost. Unfortunately, I was definitely part of it."
It took a while, but the Ravens ultimately befuddled St. Pierre as he threw into coverage.
"We knew they were going to keep the game very simple for him," Lewis said. "Of course in the NFL, anybody is going to find something. Overall, we confused them a lot and gave them a lot of different looks and everything went our way."
The Ravens will now play four of their final six games at home, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Baltimore is undefeated in four games at M&T Bank Stadium this season.
Tight end Todd Heap acknowledged that the onus was on the Ravens to blow out Carolina, which didn’t happen until the final minutes.
"Always when you go into a game like this there is more pressure on us to perform, to make plays, to make it the kind of game that everyone is expecting," Heap said. "It doesn’t always turn out that way. It took a little bit longer before we ended it the way we wanted to.
"That’s the way the NFL is. Every game, it’s not going to be easy no matter who you’re playing. We’re happy to come out with the win. We’re happy to get to seven wins. I feel we are still improving and getting momentum moving forward."