Panthers football finally returned and the results were mixed, to say the least.
The game started out great for the Panthers with an end around to Ted Ginn Jr for almost 20 yards. Cam and company then continued a classic Carolina drive with big catches by Olsen, Bersin and Ginn to get the Panthers into the red zone while taking a lot of time off the clock. Cam just missed Ginn in the end zone and the Panthers settled for a field goal.
The defense forced a three and out after two running plays were snuffed out and a bad snap led to a Ryan Mallet scramble that ended up short of the line to gain. The positive vibes were short lived as the backup offensive line subbed in for the Panthers. Darryl Williams was beat for a sack and Derek Anderson was stripped on the play. The Ravens recovered with great field position.
The defense was a little soft to begin the ensuing drive but tightened up. A lucky deflection by James Bradberry’s shoulder in the end zone followed by some great jam coverage by Darryl Worley led to a third down for the Ravens inside the Panthers’ twenty yard line. The next pass was juggled by the intended receiver and AJ Klein swooped in to pick the ball off and take it to the house. Unfortunately, there is a new rule about players coming on the field before a play is finished and we all know Cam Newton gets excited. Cam ran on the field to celebrate (far away from the action, mind you) and got flagged, nullifying the touchdown. The interception stood, however, so the Panthers retained possession.
The Panthers’ second stringers finally put together some good plays, including a huge conversion on 3rd and 17 by Brenton Bersin. That put the Panthers in position for a nice throw and catch by Derek Anderson and Devin Funchess for the touchdown. At this point the Panthers led 10-0 and things were looking good. The next Ravens possession showed some signs of life and ended the first quarter.
The second team defense continued to allow the Ravens to move the ball at will to start the second quarter, leading to a first and goal inside the ten yard line. The Panthers defense stood up the Ravens and forced a fourth and goal from the one yard line, but the Ravens were able to punch it in without much resistance from there. Damiere Byrd then provided a shot in the arm for the Panthers with a huge return where he was dragged down around midfield. The Panthers converted a fourth and short of their own on a hard run by Cameron Artis-Payne, but the offense stalled after a questionable offensive pass interference call. The Panthers were forced to punt at that point.
The defense was able stiffen up after some troubles wrapping up, and forced a Baltimore punt. Then the implosion started. The second string offensive line did their best impression of subway turnstiles and the Panthers’ offense went backwards. Veteran Mike Scifres shanked a 37 yard punt, which was made worse by a kick catch interference call against Mario Addison. That gave the Ravens incredible field position and they scored shortly thereafter on a screen play. The defense seemed uninspired at this point in the game and the Ravens held a 14-10 lead.
The only bright spots to this point continued to do their damnedest to carry the offense as another good return by Damiere Byrd and a couple more big catches by Brenton Bersin (plus a defensive pass interference call against the Ravens) had the Panthers’ offense on the move. A bubble screen to Stephen Hill provided some inspiration and it was good to see Hill fight through contact for extra yardage. Hopefully the knee is feeling better. The Panthers were able to add a field goal before the half and cut the lead to just one.
The third quarter saw Ryan Delaire struggle and almost single-handedly gift the Ravens a touchdown. After the defense had trouble wrapping up, Delaire got fooled on a play action bootleg then beat to the edge on a cutback run for a touchdown on back-to-back plays. Then the Panthers dropped Delaire into coverage on the two point conversion try, where he gave a half-hearted attempt to stop an easy throw and catch for the Ravens.
When the Panthers took over again, Damiere Byrd again flashed some potential, this time at receiver as he held his focus on a pass bobbled by himself and the defender. He eventually secured the football and gained good yardage. The Panthers eventually punted and Fozzy Whitaker scared the returner into muffing the punt. The Panthers recovered and were not able to move the ball much. Graham Gano came back on and nailed another field goal.
A highlight play you will probably see a few times this week happened on the ensuing Ravens drive. TE Nick Boyle caught a pass over the middle and hurdled over Marcus Ball, who then inadvertently took out another Panther defender. A few plays later DT Eric Crume forced and recovered a fumble on a sack off the edge. Joe Webb was leading the offense at this point and was wild, to say the least. After missing some receivers, he was able to convert a short fourth down play on a play action bootleg. Not much happened for the rest of the quarter.
Joe Webb continued to captain the ship and had mixed results. He would lead the offense to another field goal for Graham Gano, making the score 22-19 in favor of the Ravens. The Panthers defense did not look suffocating but did just enough to keep the game close until late. Joe Webb then went to work through the air and on the ground to keep a long drive alive and put the Panthers in position to take the lead. The Panthers had a first and goal opportunity with about two and half minutes to go. They would get to just outside the five yard line, then get stonewalled. Instead of kicking for the tie in the preseason, the Panthers decided to go for it on fourth down. The route ran did not even end in the end zone and Marcus Lucas could not hang on and the Ravens took over.
A couple questionable pass calls by the Ravens gave the Panthers some hope and they were able to force a punt. True to the form of the game, however, Damiere Byrd muffed the punt, the Ravens recovered and the game was over with the Ravens winning 22-19.
The first team looked really good and we will see more of them in weeks two and three of the preseason. Let’s hope none of the first team offensive line gets hurt because that second unit got abused. The runningbacks did not produce but that was largely due to the offensive line getting zero push. There was a consistent lack of wrapping up on defense, some of which is expected early on, but it is something to be addressed. I am sure Ron Rivera will have the guys working hard this week to fix some things. The good news is, Graham Gano is in midseason form!
What were your thoughts, Panther fans? Sound off in the comments!