Ravens bottom out in Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Reality hit the Baltimore Ravens square in the jaw. The Ravens knew they had entered an era of diminished expectations, but a 10-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon wasn't what the football team envisioned when it slashed a veteran-laden roster to the bone to fulfill the NFL's salary cap requirements. This loss at Ericsson Stadium to open the season represents the tangible beginning of Baltimore's fall from a Super Bowl title two seasons ago.

The Ravens weren't being able to outlast a 1-15 team from a year ago that was starting 36-year-old quarterback Rodney Peete. The journeyman hadn't started a game since 1998, or thrown a pass since 1999.

"It was an eye-opener," said Baltimore cornerback Chris McAlister, the lone returning starter in the Ravens secondary. "It lets us know exactly where we're at."

When Carolina rookie defensive end Julius Peppers burst past Ravens running back Jamal Lewis to get his hands on a Chris Redman pass in the fourth quarter, the football popped into the waiting arms of middle linebacker Dan Morgan to ensure the win.

The interception allowed the Panthers (1-0) to run out the clock and rejoice at the misfortune of the Ravens. Now, Baltimore (0-1) has to try to regroup for next week when it hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and new coach Jon Gruden at Ravens Stadium.

Lewis said the blocking scheme called for him to block downward, but he saw Peppers, the second overall pick out of North Carolina, flash across his face.

"He got around me and made the play," Lewis said. Once Lewis shifted his momentum to try to stop the imposing rookie, Peppers buzzed past him to get in Redman's face and cause the turnover.

 "Some of the things that happened out there were to be anticipated," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Players bounce back pretty quick, so what I told them was that this is the NFL and there is nothing you can gain from losing.

"There are no moral victories, but you have to improve with each contest."

The loss marred an otherwise encouraging performance by Redman, who took several hits to complete 20 of 34 passes for 218 yards and a sharp touchdown to rookie wideout Ron Johnson in the back of the end zone.

Redman also had success throwing to tight end Todd Heap and receivers Brandon Stokley and Travis Taylor, who was slowed by a shoulder injury.

Carolina coach John Fox, who won his debut as a head coach, called for an instant replay on Johnson's catch. Officials ruled that Johnson dragged his feet inside the end zone on a crossing route to open the game's scoring with 2:43 left in the first quarter.

Baltimore struggled to tackle Carolina running back Lamar Smith, who gained a game-high 84 yards.

Carolina tied the score with 36 seconds left in the first quarter when Peete found 36-year-old tight end Wesley Walls behind the Ravens secondary for a 20-yard score.

Panthers kicker John Kasay scored the game-winning points with 9:40 left in the second quarter when he hit a 27-yard field goal to close the day's scoring. The play was set up by a first down gained on a reverse by receiver Muhsin Muhammad.

"We can't expect to go out there and dominate like we did with the vets," said outside linebacker Peter Boulware, the recipient of a seven-year contract extension on Friday worth $42 million that included a signing bonus of $13.5 million.

All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis took umbrage at a suggestion that he was blocked more in this revamped 3-4 defense installed by new coordinator Mike Nolan.

 "Everything ain't going to be pretty," said Lewis, who collected eight tackles after leading the NFL with 196 last season. "This is a business. Somebody had to lose on Sunday. It just happened to be us.

"What did you train for? Why do you keep fighting? We're not going to take one loss and pack our bags."

One bright spot besides Redman was Jamal Lewis' return. Playing in his first regular-season game since tearing up his knee in training camp last August in Westminster, Lewis rushed for a team-high 64 yards on 17 carries.

He also caught four passes for 33 yards. His long run of 18 yards came in the second half.

"Actually, I feel great," said Lewis, returning from his second reconstructed knee after injuring his right knee in college. "It's not aching at all. It's not swollen at all. It held up pretty good during the whole game. That was a real test for me." 


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