Ravens 21, Saints 6

-- The Baltimore Ravens' offense wasn't explosive -- or even particularly productive -- in the Ravens' first two preseason games, but that changed on the first play of their 21-6 win over the New Orleans Saints on Friday night.

Running back Chester Taylor, who was filling in for starter Jamal Lewis, darted through a big hole on the right side and dashed 43 yards untouched for a touchdown on the very first play from scrimmage. Then, on the Ravens' second play, Taylor cut behind left tackle Jonathan Ogden and ran 50 yards down the left side -- even taking advantage of a downfield block from quarterback Kyle Boller.

When Taylor and the rest of the Ravens' starters left the field at the Louisiana Superdome at halftime, Baltimore (1-2) had built a 14-6 lead and Taylor had rushed for 151 yards on 13 carries.

"Man, I should be thanking the offensive line," Taylor said. "They were giving me a crease to hit, giving me a chance to look up and see the end zone. I think they've done it all preseason. They are building for the opener."

The offensive line, which opened so many holes for Taylor, didn't fare as well in protecting Boller, who was pressured and hit on at least six occasions in the first half, including a vicious-looking helmet-to-helmet hit from Ron McKinnon that resulted in a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty.

Pass protection has "got to be better. My quarterback is getting the hell knocked out of him and that's not good," Coach Brian Billick said. "We've got a guy getting beat here and a guy getting beat there. The backs struggled tonight with protection. They kept coming with [pressure], and I would've come with even more the way we protected."

The third-year quarterback was also hit on the play in which he threw a 31-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to wide receiver Clarence Moore. Boller was crushed by linebacker Courtney Watson an instant after releasing the ball, but he leapt to his feet and pumped his fist once he saw Moore dash into the end zone. That score gave Baltimore a 14-3 lead with 1 minute 54 seconds left in the first half.

"We're trying to iron things out," Boller said of his pass protection.

He had his chest examined at halftime as a precaution.

"Those linemen are my boys. When you see a guy hit me, I might've missed a hot read, and there's going to be a guy because they're bringing too many guys for as many guys as we have in our protection. We have to continue to iron it out. If they're going to bring seven or eight guys, we're going to do some quick stuff, you have to get the ball out of your hands. There's no way you can block that many guys."

Boller left the game at halftime having completed 5 of 11 passes for 53 yards; he also threw one interception -- his fourth in three preseason games. Early in the first quarter, on a third and five from the New Orleans 22, Boller's pass was batted up into the air by 6-foot-3 defensive end Will Smith, and Charles Grant came down with the ball.

Lewis was scheduled to make his first start of the preseason on Friday night, but a bone spur in his left foot kept him out. The 2003 NFL offensive player of the year has guaranteed that he will be ready to play when the Ravens open the regular season against Indianapolis on Sept. 11.

The Ravens have complete confidence in Taylor, especially after the way he filled in for Lewis last season when Lewis was sidelined for four games by a suspension and an ankle injury. In the offseason, the organization demonstrated how much it values Taylor by matching a $3 million offer sheet that the restricted free agent signed with the Cleveland Browns.

"We haven't had a question in a long time with Chester," Billick said of Taylor, who has rushed for 253 yards on 36 carries in the preseason. "He's got more than enough snaps. Now we've got to get Jamal some snaps."

Baltimore's starting defense held the Saints to two field goals. The Ravens gave up one big play -- a 47-yard pass from Aaron Brooks to Donte Stallworth midway through the second quarter that put New Orleans on the Ravens 18 -- but in typical fashion, they clamped down and forced the Saints to settle for a 28-yard field goal from Nate Fikse.

The Ravens' three preseason opponents -- Atlanta, Philadelphia and New Orleans -- have made a combined five trips into the red zone against the Baltimore starters and not one has come away with a touchdown. The Ravens' first-string defense has given up only one touchdown in five quarters of preseason play.

"I think we're getting better with every step," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We have to keep fine-tuning it, that's what preseason is for. The things we did give up were just some miscommunication, but that's football. If you expect to come in a game and not make one mistake, then you're expecting the wrong things. The important thing is we didn't give up a touchdown."

Ravens Notes: The game marked the Ravens' first trip to the Superdome. . . . B.J. Sams opened the game with a 48-yard kickoff return that set up Taylor's touchdown run. . . . Tight end Todd Heap, fullback Alan Ricard (calf), guard Edwin Mulitalo (personal reasons), cornerback Deion Sanders (hamstring) and linebacker Peter Boulware did not play. Heap participated in warmups, even though he wasn't expected to play.

Cornerback Dale Carter made his first appearance of the preseason, starting in place of Samari Rolle (knee). Carter missed all of last season because of a blood clot in his lungs and was sidelined for the first two games with a leg injury. Linebacker Adalius Thomas returned to the starting lineup after hyperextending his knee during the second week of training camp. . . .

The number of safety Ed Reed, the NFL defensive player of the year, was retired at his alma mater, Destrehan High in St. Rose, La., on Thursday night. The ceremony, which was also attended by Billick, General Manager Ozzie Newsome, and Ray Lewis, took place at the third annual Edward Reed River Parishes Jamboree, a series of high school scrimmages.

Baltimore Ravens running back Chester Taylor eyes the end zone during first-half action.