If we’re going to get anything resembling a sneak peek at the Ravens’ front-line offense, that showcase will have to wait for the team’s final preseason game next weekend in Washington.
With Tyler Huntley at quarterback and only five projected offensive starters on the field, the Ravens relied on timely defensive stops Saturday night to beat the Carolina Panthers, 20-3, in their second game of the preseason. The Ravens defense has been ahead of their offense since the start of training camp, and that narrative held at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they stifled the Panthers with an early goal-line stand and a dominant second half.
Regardless of the formula, the Ravens won their 19th straight preseason game, tying the record set by Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers from 1959 through 1962. They have not lost in the preseason since Sept. 3, 2015.
Coach John Harbaugh grinned after the game as he reflected on long-forgotten Ravens who contributed to the streak. “I think everything is something,” he said when asked about its significance. “Those guys should all take pride in that.”
The Ravens again played with an incomplete set of starting offensive linemen and without their top pass catchers. So Harbaugh decided discretion was the better part of valor when it came to franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, who sat out a second straight preseason game.
Without Jackson, the Ravens undermined themselves by giving the ball away twice in the first quarter.
Huntley’s first attempt of the game was tipped at the line of scrimmage and caromed into the arms of Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick. Ravens safety DeShon Elliott shed a block and stuffed Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line to keep Carolina from capitalizing on the turnover.
Just when the Ravens and Huntley found a little rhythm on offense later in the quarter, tight end Josh Oliver lost a fumble in the red zone, leaving Harbaugh to fold his arms and glare from the sideline.
The Ravens did not score until Justin Tucker’s 29-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
Harbaugh was proud of the way they rebounded from there. “We basically stopped making mistakes and started playing winning football,” he said.
With Trace McSorley sidelined by a back injury, Huntley no longer faces competition for the No. 2 quarterback job. But he could not put the Ravens in the end zone against the Panthers’ starting defenders, and his interception added to a troubling pattern from the teams’ joint practices in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Wednesday and Thursday.
He did find a productive connection with rookie wide receiver Tylan Wallace on a go-ahead drive in the third quarter, hitting the fourth-round pick for a pair of outside throws totaling 36 yards to set up a short touchdown run by Nate McCrary. He followed that up with two more scoring drives to put the game to bed. Huntley completed 24 of 34 passes for 187 yards before giving way to Baltimore native Kenji Bahar (Calvert Hall) late in the fourth quarter.
Huntley said he felt the Panthers were lucky on their two early takeaways. “We just cleaned up and continued our drives,” he said. “That’s what made us come out victorious.”
Though the Ravens did not repeat their disastrous offensive line performance from the previous week against the New Orleans Saints, they did not give Huntley much time to throw when Carolina’s star pass rushers, Reddick and defensive end Brian Burns, were in the game. The Ravens averaged just 4.5 yards on 34 offensive plays in the first half.
After that dreadful blocking performance against the Saints, they went with three projected starters — right tackle Alejandro Villanueva, right guard Kevin Zeitler and center Bradley Bozeman — against Carolina. Ben Powers started at left guard and Patrick Mekari at left tackle.
“I think it’s like any game; there are some good things, but obviously, we’re disappointed we couldn’t finish any of those drives that we started,” Zeitler said. “So, it’s early. [There’s] a long way to go, but at least we know what we need to work on.”
Harbaugh has said there’s a chance his starting offensive line — with Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and perhaps rookie Ben Cleveland at left guard — could be on the field for next Saturday’s preseason closer against the Washington Football Team.
The news was better on defense. Elliott accumulated four tackles and a sack in his abbreviated outing, and safety partner Chuck Clark forced a fumble with a sharp hit. Second-year linebackers Marvin Harrison and Patrick Queen were active again, with four ad three tackles, respectively.
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Elliott’s goal-line stop proved to be the pivotal play in the game.
“It was a sudden change,” Clark said. “That’s what we talk about a lot — a sudden change [when] we have to go back on the field, or we get put in a bad position. It’s a team effort, but we just have to go out there, stand up and do our part.”
Preseason, Week 3
Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 7
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM