BALTIMORE, MD – The Carolina Panthers made the most of mistakes by the defending Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens, to win at M&T Stadium, 34-27. This, however, does not mean things are good all around. For the third straight game, the first-team offense failed to produce and a pattern is emerging. (The same could be said for the Ravens as well…)
Ted Ginn, Jr. returned this punt 74-yards on his first touch as a Panther kick returner.
Ted Ginn, Jr. returned the first punt he has seen since he played the Ravens in last year’s Super Bowl 74 yards, basically untouched, to start the highlights. Other defensive plays that led to touchdowns included interceptions by Drayton Florence (71 yards) and D.J. Moore (33 yards) plus a fumble recovery (2 yards) by linebacker Thomas Davis. If this were the regular season and you played the Panthers’ defense in your fantasy league, you’d be crowing about it today.
“Today was the first time I got a live punt. I just did what I do in practice, get the ball and get upfield,” Ginn said. “Without my other 10 guys I was nothing. I made a guy miss, but everybody picked up a block and got on their man.”
“I think Ted Ginn did a great job of getting the game going for us. He went out there and scored and got a spark into everybody. And then the defense went out and took care of business,” said rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who had a sack and three tackles for loss. Lotulelei and Kawann Short, another 2013 draftee, played their best game to date, taking up room and creating defensive opportunities.
Quarterback Cam Newton was under duress during his playing time, and did not have a good game. He was sacked three times and hurried on several other plays. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 99 yards, and had a 67.7 quarterback rating. “When the defense plays like that, I feel like we let those guys down,” a disappointed Newton said.
His six drives resulted in two field goals and four punts. The Panthers’ first-team offense has gone more than two games without a touchdown, spanning 12 possessions since a first-quarter touchdown against Chicago two weeks ago. And that has been the only touchdown drive in 14 exhibition series – covering just 18 yards after a takeaway. The other possessions have produced eight punts, four field goals and a Newton interception that was returned for a touchdown.
When the starters departed after three quarters, the Ravens had outgained Carolina 290 to 104 and had run nearly twice as many plays – 62-33.
“When you score (four) touchdowns on defense and special teams, the offense doesn’t get back out there. The opportunities are limited,” Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said. “Now having said that, (3.5) yards on average (per) offensive play is not good enough. Not in this league, if we expect to win football games. We cannot accept that.”
Rivera lamented the dropped passes and missed blocks, and said they “will be addressed and corrected.”
Luke Kuechly’s hit on Baltimore’s Bernard Pierce set the tone for the defensive effort by the Panther Thursday night.
The Panthers’ defense proved to be their best offense. Second-year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly demonstrated again he is one of the game’s emerging stars. (And ESPN’s Jon Gruden even went as far as saying he felt Kuechly would be the league’s defensive MVP one day.)
Kuechly forced the fumble on Davis’ touchdown, blowing up running back Bernard Pierce and knocking the ball loose. Kuechly, the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, had seven first-half tackles and an interception of Joe Flacco.
“We’ve had quite a few turnovers in each game and that’s huge for us,” Kuechly said. “Any time you can score 21 points on defense and score a touchdown on special teams, hopefully you can get a win from that.”
It is not certain, but quite possibly the four defensive touchdowns in the game was a preseason record. No one could remember a game featuring such an outburst by the defense. The Panthers’ front seven can dominate…it’s the defensive backfield that remains a question, especially when Captain Munnerlyn left the game with an injured arm (X-rays proved negative).
Both teams struggled with their offenses…The Ravens first drive looked like they were playing against a high school team, as Flacco was perfect with his passing and Marshal Yanda leading the way for Ray Rice’s rushing. Flacco had another subpar performance (73.1 quarterback rating), his third of the preseason, and didn’t move well in the pocket when pressured. The Panthers harassed Flacco quite often in the first period, and some of the miscues weren’t his fault.
Next week’s game will not feature many of the starters, as the team prepares to cut down to the 53-man roster, and needs to make some decisions. Injuries are not helping players, and the starters need to be focusing on the home opener against Seattle (which means playing another quick-tempo team).