When they got the ball on their first possession and needed just nine plays to go 69 yards to get into the end zone, all appeared right in the Ravens' world.
Joe Flacco completed all five of his passing attempts, Ray Rice needed just three carries to eclipse his total rushing yards for the preseason, and the offensive line had its way with the Carolina Panthers.
But memories of the first successful extended drive of the preseason for the first-team offense quickly washed away amid a flurry of mistakes, questionable decisions by Flacco and poor offensive line play. Things got so bad at one point in the first half that Flacco, a little more than six months since being named the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player, heard a smattering of boos by the announced 70,554 as he walked off the field following his second interception.
The Ravens trailed by 17 points at halftime and never recovered, falling 34-27 to the Panthers to drop to 2-1 on the preseason. The Panthers scored all four of their touchdowns on returns: two on interceptions, one on a fumble recovery and one on a punt.
“We obviously turned the ball over, and you lose more games than you win this league when you do that,” Flacco said. “With what we did tonight, we're not going to win a lot of football games doing that. At the same time, it was just a lot of miscommunication, and I felt like we did a lot of really good things, too.”
Flacco did salvage something from the night, leading the offense to points on both second-half drives that he led. That included a 24-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown, the undrafted rookie out of Georgia who has emerged as a prime candidate to not only make the team but to occupy a significant role.
For the game, Flacco finished 18-of-24 for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions while playing deep into the third quarter. Assuming that he doesn't play in next Thursday's preseason finale in St. Louis — and that's usually what coach John Harbaugh chooses to do — Flacco will finish the preseason 32-of-42 for 344 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
“Joe is not one to throw a lot of interceptions as we all know,” Harbaugh said. “ A lot of that is he's probably trying to get a feel for guys. Joe will be the first to take responsibility. He's always been that way. I don't expect that to be an issue this year but we have to make sure of that.”
In 16 possessions this preseason, the Ravens' first-team offense has scored points on four and turned the ball over on five.
Following Rice's 1-yard touchdown run on their first possession Thursday, the Ravens' next five drives ended with two punts, a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown by Drayton Florence, a 2-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Thomas Davis after Bernard Pierce put the ball on the ground and an interception by Luke Kuechly.
Throw in Ted Ginn Jr.'s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter and the Ravens went into halftime trailing 24-7, despite the fact that their defense allowed only three points and 67 yards against a Cam Newton-led offense.
“We did things well in the first half, and were down 24-7,” Harbaugh said. “When you turn it over and give up a special teams touchdown, you get in a big hole. We have to protect the ball better. We know we can do that, but we didn't.”
Flacco finished the first half 13-of-19 for 113 yards and two interceptions, numbers that look worse when you consider that he was 5-of-5 for 45 yards on the Ravens' first drive. He also had an interception by Charles Godfrey nullified when Kuechly was called for a personal foul for a high hit on rookie wide receiver Aaron Mellette.
However, two plays later, Flacco tried to find tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and Kuechly, who also jarred the ball loose from Pierce on Davis' return touchdown, picked it off and returned it 29 yards.
It certainly wasn't all on Flacco. The offense line allowed him to be sacked three times, two of them in the first half. Through three quarters, the Panthers had six quarterback hits and eight tackles for losses. At one point in the first half, Harbaugh walked over to where the offensive line was seated and spoke sternly to the group as run coordinator Juan Castillo looked on.
Flacco's first interception, which Florence returned for the touchdown, was also the result of a missed communication between the quarterback and third-year wide receiver Tandon Doss.
“That was a miscommunication on a sight adjustment,” Harbaugh said. “Joe was throwing to sight and Tandon was obviously not running to sight. That's what happens when that happens.”
Still, Harbaugh exited the game feeling pretty good about his team. A big reason for that was the Ravens emerged from the game relatively healthy with the exception being backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor who left the game in the fourth quarter and was being tested for a concussion.
“We came out healthy. I'm very pleased with that,” Harbaugh said. “I'm very pleased with really most everything about the game. I like the way we played, I liked how we played. I just didn't like the four return touchdowns. Next time that happens, it needs to be us doing that rather than them.”
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