For the first time since moving to Baltimore four years ago, the Ravens are playing for something meaningful in December.

Baltimore hopes to finish with a .500 or better season--the Ravens had losing records in their first three seasons--and even has an outside chance of making the playoffs.

But first the Ravens (6-7) must avoid a letdown against a struggling team, the New Orleans Saints (2-11), at 1 p.m. today at PSINet Stadium. Baltimore has won two in a row and seemingly has some momentum as it begins its final stretch.

For left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was the first player selected by Baltimore in the 1996 draft, this is a new experience. He has watched the last three seasons as the team stumbled down the stretch and was forced to play the role of spoiler as other teams tried to make the playoffs. Now, Ogden, along with the rest of the team, is trying to figure out what it means to play for something besides pride.

"Right now, for me, I'm still in that process of trying to--I don't want to say become a winner because I've always viewed myself as being a winner--but I think we're still [growing into this role]," Ogden said. "Even though we're here, wherever we are, I still think that if we don't go out there and [beat the Saints], we're 6-8 and everybody in this town is jumping on us: 'Same ol' Ravens. Can't even beat New Orleans.' I know how it goes around here."

Baltimore hasn't looked like the "same ol' Ravens" lately, having won four of its last six games. That stretch included wins against Tennessee (10-3) and at Pittsburgh, where Baltimore had not won in its last three tries. The Ravens' offense, which often had been ineffective early in the season, has averaged more than 32 points per game since Baltimore lost 6-3 to Jacksonville on Nov. 14.

"It's a shame we jelled so late in the season," defensive tackle Tony Siragusa said. "We lost [four] games by three points. It would be really nice to have them right now."

Baltimore Coach Brian Billick has been pleased how the schedule has fallen into place. He wanted to play on the road in Pittsburgh after the Ravens' big win against Tennessee. Now he can't wait to come home to play the Saints, who have lost 11 of their last 12 games.

"To come back into an energized PSINet Stadium with the fans being cranked up . . . the players feeding off of that, it's going to be a big plus for us," Billick said.

Billick also said who the Ravens play today is really of no consequence.

"It didn't matter it was Pittsburgh necessarily as much as it was on the road, in the division in a place they hadn't won before," he said. "I think this group understands [that the opponent doesn't matter]. And this group certainly understands . . . about the tough losses we've had that were so close, we're not going to overlook anybody."

Ravens Notes: Wide receivers Patrick Johnson (strained calf) and Jermaine Lewis (sore knee), who did not play against Pittsburgh last week, are expected to play this week. . . . Running back Errict Rhett, who injured his ribs against Tennessee, also is expected to play. Billick said he would alternate ball-carrying duties between Rhett and Priest Holmes, who has rushed for more than 100 yards twice in Rhett's absence. . . . New Orleans rookie running back Ricky Williams, who has missed three consecutive games with turf toe, is questionable for today's game. Williams needs 184 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark.


When: 1 p.m., PSINet Stadium.

TV/Radio: WBFF-45; WLIF-FM-101.9, WSMD-FM-98.3, WJFK-1300, WXTR-820. Line: Ravens by 9.