On an ESPN televised preseason game against the defending Super Bowl champions, a pair of Panthers flashed their All-Pro skills on a national stage.
And neither of them were quarterback Cam Newton.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei dominated on a defense that forced four turnovers, and scored 24 points off them. Kuechly had a monstrous 7 tackle game with a forced fumble and an interception. Lotulelei was constantly in the backfield, amassing 4 tackles and a sack. Their play punctuated an incredible game against the Ravens, winning 34-27.
The Panthers offense opened the game in their usual slow-moving, penalty filled fashion. The first drive can be summed up with an incomplete pass, a zero yard rush, and two penalties.
With the change of possession, the Ravens looked like they were in Super Bowl form, steamrolling the Panthers D on their first drive in only 4 minutes. After quarterback Joe Flacco shredded the defense with passes of 12, 13, and 14 yards, running back Ray Rice finished the job, scoring a 1 yard rush.
When the Panthers gave the ball back after another short drive, hope was dim. A Ravens three and out, and a Ted Ginn, Jr., punt return TD later, the team was revived.
This momentum carried throughout the whole first half. On the next Ravens drive, cornerback Drayton Florence took an interception to the house for a 71-yard touchdown. Immediately following, Kuechly blew up running back Bernard Pierce to force a fumble that linebacker Thomas Davis returned for a touchdown.
A short two-minute drive from Newton led to a 54 yard field goal by Graham Gano, putting the Panthers up at the half, 24-7.
In an uneventful second half, Newton led the Panthers to another Gano field goal. Cornerback D.J. Moore capped an impressive defensive effort with yet another interception return for a TD.
As amazing as the defense was tonight, the offense was the total opposite. Newton finished 10 for 19 with 99 yard passing in nearly 3 full quarters of play. As tweeted by Charlotte Observer’s Joe Person:
Panthers' first-team offense now has gone 11 possessions without a TD.— Joe Person (@josephperson) August 23, 2013
The bad news on the injury front continued. Running back Kenjon Barner (foot), left guard Amini Silatolu (leg), cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (hand), and wide receiver Kealoha Pilares (knee) were shaken up and appeared to be injured. More news concerning their injuries still to come.
Running back Armond Smith was ejected from the game for kicking his tackler.
The run game was nonexistent. Carolina amassed 75 yards, but most coming at the end of the game to run out the clock. Running backs Barner and DeAngelo Williams combined for 6 carries and 9 yards rushing.
Passing stats would have looked a little better if wide receivers Brandon LaFell and David Gettis did not make key drops during the game. Newton was a little erratic, but these two receivers did not help his cause.
Tight end Greg Olsen led the way for all pass catchers with 3 receptions for 44 yards. An increased emphasis seemed to be placed on him.
Linebacker Jon Beason returned from his preseason long injuries to play for a half. He only had 2 tackles, but appeared to make significant strides in stopping the opposing run game.
Luke Kuechly, 7 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 2 passes defensed
Who Stood Out
Kuechly, Lotulelei, Ginn, Kawann Short, David Gettis (save for one drop), Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Frank Alexander, Graham Gano, Brad Nortman
The first team offense, Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Brandon LaFell, the interior of the offensive line, D.J. Campbell, Armond Smith, Mike Mitchell (with silly penalties)