Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton cuts past Panthers safety… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
The Ravens opened the preseason Thursday by showing off their passing game for a national television audience.
But the Ravens' 17-12 victory over the Carolina Panthers before an announced crowd of 70,579 at M&T Bank Stadium came with an unexpected wrinkle. They won with their old weapons instead of their new ones.
Relying on a couple of backups — running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Mark Clayton — quarterback Joe Flacco guided the Ravens to scores on two of three drives, throwing a 30-yard touchdown to Clayton and leaving with a near-perfect quarterback rating of 127.1.
This was supposed to be the night where Flacco enthralled fans by throwing to two of the team's biggest offseason acquisitions, wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth. Instead, Flacco put together an efficient performance (8-for-12 for 120 yards and one touchdown) by going to role players, not the stars. It seemed as if the Ravens were showcasing McGahee and Clayton, two players who could draw interest in a trade for a cornerback.
"We need to clean some things up," Flacco said, "but overall it was a good start."
The Ravens' first offensive series started at midfield after safety Tom Zbikowski sacked Carolina quarterback Matt Moore and, on the next play, returned a punt 28 yards.
Flacco completed a 23-yard pass to Derrick Mason and an 18-yard one to Mark Clayton, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, Flacco started his last series at his own 4-yard line. His first completion to Boldin went for 12 yards and gave the Ravens breathing room.
Flacco then completed four straight short passes to McGahee for 12, 8, 13 and 4 yards as the Ravens practiced their screen plays. He finished off the drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Clayton, who benefited from a misplay by Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.
"They were playing single-high coverage, and Mark was one-on-one on the edge," Flacco said. "I just had to give him time to get on top of the guy, and he made an unbelievable play."
Flacco was 6-for-6 for 79 yards on the 96-yard marathon drive. Perhaps the more telling number was the play selection: The Ravens called 15 pass plays and five runs.
"It was a great start for us," Flacco said, "and I was happy we were able to cap it off with a touchdown on that last drive."
The offense had its problems at times. Rookie nose tackle Terrence Cody, who was put in the game to play fullback, had a false start on a third-down play at the Carolina 5-yard line. Left tackle Michael Oher and left guard Ben Grubbs both gave up sacks to Tyler Brayton.
"I think we are where we want to be for this point in time, but we still have a lot of work to do," McGahee said. "We need to do a better job of blocking for the quarterback because they got a couple of sacks in the first half. That's something that we can't allow them to do because we need to keep Joe clean. Still, I think we are all happy that we kept moving the ball down the field."
It was surprising to see the Ravens get the ball to McGahee and Le'Ron McClain (four carries for 21 yards) instead of Ray Rice (no touches).
"I don't think our plan was to give Ray a lot of work going into the game," coach John Harbaugh said.
The Ravens' defense was thin at cornerback. Fabian Washington (knee) and Lardarius Webb (knee) were sidelined, and Chris Carr (hamstring) left after two plays.
With Travis Fisher and Cary Williams playing most of the first half at corner, the Ravens helped them out by putting pressure on the Panthers. Carolina's first drive ended on Zbikowski's sack and strip of Moore. The Panthers' third drive was stalled by two holding calls on starting left tackle Jordan Gross, who couldn't block the Ravens' Antwan Barnes.
The Ravens' defense finished with seven sacks and two turnovers.
"Defensively, I thought we were good the entire game," Harbaugh said.
After backup quarterback Marc Bulger (5-for-12 for 67 yards) fumbled on his first series, the Ravens' second-team defense made an impressive red-zone stand. Safety Haruki Nakamura forced running back Tyrell Sutton to fumble at the Ravens' 1-yard line.
"That's Ravens defense at the goal line," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "We don't give up until they cross. If we have a place to stand, we'll fight and play like Ravens."
The Ravens were helped out by Carolina's sloppy play. The Panthers' 47-yard field goal attempt was ruined by a bad snap, which closed out the first half with the Ravens leading 10-3.
During a downpour in the third quarter, Ravens third-string running back Jalen Parmele's fumble was returned 31 yards by safety C.J. Wilson.
But the Panthers failed to tie the game at 10 when John Kasay's point-after attempt hit the right upright.