BALTIMORE – The Carolina Panthers enjoyed many happy returns in a preseason victory against the defending champs.
Now, if only they can do something about their inconsistent offense, the Panthers would be ready to start the regular season.
Carolina’s defense scored three times in a 34-27 win against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night.
Drayton Florence took an interception 71 yards into the end zone, Thomas Davis scored on a 2-yard fumble return and D.J. Moore intercepted a pass by Tyrod Taylor and ran 31 yards for a touchdown.
It was a weird game.
The Ravens finished with 27 first downs compared to 14 for Carolina, outgained the Panthers, 357-173, and had an 11½-minute edge in time of possession.
“I was absolutely not pleased with how I played,” said Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who went 10-for-19 for 99 yards.
But four Baltimore turnovers made the difference. What did we learn about the Ravens and Panthers?
1 FLACCO, RECEIVERS NOT IN SYNC Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions, which is two more than he threw in the postseason last season.
“(Thursday) was one of those games that we did a lot of good things, but we had some miscommunication and turned the ball over too much,” Flacco said.
2 PASSING THE TORCH With standout middle linebackers like ex-Raven Ray Lewis and longtime Bear Brian Urlacher retired, the stage is set for new blood to assume the mantel as the NFL’s best defensive playmakers. The Panthers think they have a potential successor in Luke Kuechly.
The AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012 had four tackles and three assists against the Ravens, intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble. But you’d never know it from talking to him. After the game, Kuechly heaped praise on the defensive line for putting him in position to succeed and talked about how the linebackers succeeded as a unit, instead of focusing on his individual achievements.
“He’s a very humble young man,” said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, “so I’ll do it for him: He has the opportunity, I think, to ascend.”
3 SOLID DEBUTS Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb played in a game for the first time since he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament last October in a game against Dallas.
“It felt great just to be out there with the guys and have that game feeling,” he said. “Just be back in the field, it felt good to the heart.”
On the Carolina side, linebacker Jon Beason needed only three practices to be ready for his 2013 preseason debut, starting Thursday night. It was his first action since Week 4 of last season.
Knee and shoulder injuries sent him to injured reserve for the bulk of 2012 and he had surgery to repair a knee microfracture in October. His first practice in pads came Sunday.
4 INJURIES HAPPEN Taylor was removed from the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hard hit to the head, but that was pretty much the extent of the Ravens’ injury list.
“He went through the concussion protocol there, so we’ll just have to play that one by ear,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Other than that, we came out healthy and I’m very pleased with that.”
Carolina lost backup receiver Kealoha Pilares in the first quarter because of a knee injury. Guard Amini Silatolu left in the second quarter with a strained hamstring and running back Kenjon Barner rolled his ankle.
5 READY, SET, GO Last week, the Panthers’ defense had issues with the Eagles’ no-huddle. The Ravens tried the same ploy Thursday night. Aside from Baltimore’s touchdown on its opening drive, Carolina did a better job of handling the offensive strategy.
“They kind of caught us on our heels, but we settled down,” said Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis. “We established ourselves.”