Ravens' passing game takes flight

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco lobbed a crisp spiral over the flailing hands of Carolina Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble, hitting wide receiver Kelley Washington in stride with a sideline strike in the first quarter. It was a sneak preview of what was to follow as Flacco completed 23 of 28 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 115.3 rating.

Minutes after the 42-yard completion to Washington, Flacco lofted a nine-yard pass into the end zone into the outstretched fingertips of tight end Todd Heap to cap the drive with a touchdown pass.

It was an impressive march orchestrated by Flacco during the Ravens' 17-13 victory over the Panthers on Saturday night before a sparse crowd at Bank of America Stadium. The Ravens improved to a pristine 3-0 this preseason.

And it was a commanding performance overall for Flacco, completing 82 percent of his throws in what amounted to a dress rehearsal for the Ravens' second-year starter as he played halfway into the third quarter before being relieved by backup Troy Smith.

"We were in a groove," Flacco said. "We had some great drives. I felt really good, and we felt like we were in a good rhythm. Anytime you're out there putting together drives like that, it feels good."

During the first half, Flacco com pleted 17 of 22 passes for 199 yards for a 119.3 quarterback rating. The Ravens aren't about to abandon their smash-mouth running game, but they liked this approach against the Panthers' defensive schemes. "We thought we could throw it last year, but I think we can throw it more this year, better this year," Harbaugh said.

And Flacco utilized a va riety of targets, dumping the football off to running back Ray Rice six times for 55 yards in the first half while connecting with two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Derrick Mason for five completions for 61 yards.

"Our tempo was good in the first half," Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Joe was solid and did a good job of getting us in and out of the huddle quickly."

The Ravens' first-team offense finished with 277 yards of total offense with 247 yards of that total.

On the touchdown to Heap, it looked like the tandem had built some chemistry and timing.

"He had one-on-one with the linebacker," Flacco said "I was just waiting for him to beat him and throw it over his head."

During the first half, the Ravens outgained the Panthers 231 yards to 104 yards as Baltimore converted 4 of 6 third downs for a 67-percent conversion rate.

The biggest miscue of the night was Steve Hauschka flubbing a 27-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter despite a good snap and hold. He simply hooked it wide right.

The drive stalled after the Ravens drove down to the Panthers' 1-yard line as rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher committed a false start penalty on 2nd-and-goal followed by a delay of game penalty.

"You have to score when you get inside the five," Cameron said. "Just watch the ball when it's noisy down there. That's a live-and-learn situation for a young player."

"The only disappointment is that we didn't come away with a touchdown on that first drive," Flacco said. "They got us to jump offsides, and we can't let that happen. If you take away those stupid penalties, you'll probably have three touchdowns and a field goal. That puts us at 24 points, and that's what we have to work for."

Hauschka's big miss was met with frustration by Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who brought the young kicker over to the sideline for a lengthy conversation.

Hauschka had seemed to be on the verge of winning the kicking competition after making all three of his previous attempts during the Ravens' two preseason games.

Now, the Ravens might be forced to use their final preseason game Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons to decide whether to go with Hauschka or rookie Graham Gano. Gano had converted just 1 of 3 tries heading into the Panthers game, missing his last two attempts.

"We gave up seven points by not scoring on that first drive, and that's disappointing," Harbaugh said. "Then, we don't convert the field goal. Not good, but that's a learning experience for some of the young players."

In the opening drive of the third quarter, Hauschka redeemed himself by splitting the uprights with a 38-yard field goal.

The Panthers wound up scoring first on the subsequent drive following Hauschka's miss, opening a 3-0 lead on John Kasay's 38-yard field goal. A key play on the drive was All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis mistiming his leap and whiffing on a Jake Delhomme pass completed over the middle to tight end Jeff King for a 31-yard gain.

Wide receiver Steve Smith's personal foul for a blatant face mask penalty where he had his hands inside cornerback Domonique Foxworth's helmet helped the Ravens to stop the drive.

"We let them have the long pass up the middle on their scoring drive, but we did hold them out of the end zone," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "I liked the way we bounced back on that series."

The Ravens immediately responded, though, driving 80 yards on nine plays in a drive culminat ed by Heap's score in the corner of the end zone. After the defense stopped Carolina on a three-and-out, Flacco went back to work.

He completed passes of 15 and 14 yards to Rice, whose change of direction and elusiveness caught the Panthers' linebackers flat-footed as he generated extra yardage.

Rice finished with 99 yards of total offense, including 10 ca rries for 32 yards and eight receptions for 67 yards.

After the Ravens drove the football down to the Panthers' six-yard line, McGahee carried it three consecutive times as he powered into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter to boost the lead to 14-3.

On the score, McGahee bulled past the goal line as he got key blocks from center Matt Birk and right guard Marshal Yanda.

"Our offensive line was firing off the ball," Heap said. "The receivers were making big plays down the field, and the running backs were making catches underneath. Everybody was making plays, and I feel like we're right where we want to be."

Meanwhile, Oher held his own against four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers.

He wasn't intimidated by the star pass rusher who posted just one tackle. Oher eventually shifted to left offensive tackle with Joe Reitz taking his place on the right side.

During the first half, the Panthers rushed for just 18 yards on eight carries. And Carolina generated just four first downs to the Ravens' total of 16.

"As a defense, we are just clicking right now," Lewis said. "That's what's most exciting, the way we are clicking both offensively and defensively. The bottom line is that everyone is lining up and playing fast. We're all playing well right now.

"Anytime you're a veteran in this game, you're trying to get your wind and get your football conditioning in. Whatever you trained for this offseason, you want to make sure you're ready to make it count when those live bullets starting firing."

In the fourth quarter, Panthers running back Decori Birmingham scored on a one-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 17-10.

Then, Kasay booted a 50-yard field goal with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"We're playing well at times and building to do that consistently," Harbaugh said. "It's obvious, too, that we have plenty of things we can do better and we can work on."

NOTES: Lewis didn't play in the second half and had his right forearm and elbow heavily wrapped after hyperextending it. He didn't appear to be seriously injured as he was smiling and laughing on the sidelines. "He was reaching out and got hyperextended," Harbaugh said. "He should be all right." ... Ravens free safety Ed Reed missed an open-field tackle on Smith as he appeared to be somewhat hesitant to throw his shoulder pads in there. Reed is still dealing with a nerve impingement of his neck and shoulder and didn't play in the second half. ... Offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who allowed a sack to Tyler Brayton in the first quarter, said that his trapezius and his wrist weren't bothering him.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Hauschka misses field goal, chance to end kicking competition

By Aaron Wilson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was a pivotal miss for Steve Hauschka, a costly miscue that prevented him from locking up the Baltimore Ravens' kicking job after three preseason games.

In the wake of Hauschka sailing a 27-yard field goal attempt wide of the right upright Saturday night, the Ravens are going to wait until after their final preseason game before declaring a winner in their kicking competition.

Hauschka missed his first field goal of the preseason during the Ravens' 17-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night.

"I was hoping he would come out and grab the job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Right now, I don't think he grabbed the job. I think he kicked well. He kicked OK, but he's better than that. ..

"He didn't kick off that great, either. We thought he was on the cusp of winning it. He's right in there. He's got a great shot to earn the job."

So, the Ravens are going to wait and see what happens in their preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons before making up their minds.

"Right now, we're not going to make a decision this week," Harbaugh said. "We're not ready. I thought we might have a chance to, but we don't have to do it yet."

Hauschka flubbed the short kick despite a good snap and hold. He simply hooked it wide right. Hauschka's big miss was met with frustration by Harbaugh, who brought the young kicker over to the sideline for a lengthy conversation.

"It's one of those kicks that should have been an easy kick," Hauschka said. "I tried to guide20it in there. I didn't get my hips into the ball. You have to make the kick for what it was. I didn't get my hips around it.

"It's all part of the process, trying to put the best swing on each kick that I can. Obviously, I didn't put the best swing on one of them tonight. I have to go out there in Atlanta and show them what I can do."

Hauschka had seemed to be on the verge of winning the kicking competition after making all three of his previous attempts during the Ravens' first two preseason games.

Now, the Ravens will wait until after the Atlanta game to decide whether to go with Hauschka or rookie Graham Gano. Gano has converted just 1 of 3 tries this preseason, missing his last two attempts.

"Obviously in a competition you want to make every single kick," Hauschka said. "The reality is we're human. A lot of good kickers have missed kicks, even short ones like that. That happens to the best ones, too."

Hauschka redeemed himself by booting a 38-yarder through the uprights in the third quarter.

It was an important kick for his confidence, which was admittedly shaken by the previous miss.

"No question, I was down for a couple of minutes," Hauschka said. "I regained my focus and made the next kick."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Notebook: Derrick Martin making his bid to make the team

By Aaron Wilson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Reserve defensive back Derrick Martin isn't contemplating the annual numbers game that's involved in the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff and scouts' evaluation of who's going to make the final roster.

For Martin, he's too busy making plays and making an impression at his new safety position to waste time worrying about whether he's going to stick with the team again.

"I've been going through this ever since my rookie year," Martin said prior to the Ravens' preseason game Saturday night against the Carolina Panthers. "It's always the same thing. You can't think about that or it could distract you from what's really important.

"You just have to do your thing and let your play speak for itself. I like my chances, though. I can play safety, cornerback and special teams."

Through the Ravens' first two preseason games, Martin was the only defensive back to intercept a pass for Baltimore. He picked off Washington Redskins quarterback Colt Brennan in the preseason opener, returning the interception 14 yards.

Against the New York Jets on Monday night, Martin registered three tackles and one pass deflection. And the converted cornerback appears to be closing in on one of the final roster spots because of his versatility and production.

"I think Derrick Martin has had a really good offseason, he's had a really good camp, he's had a really good spring," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "All you've got to do is watch the tape and see how he's played.

"He plays that way every day in practice. It's not like all of the sudden he jumps up and plays well in the game. He's making a push to make our team, and he's got a really good shot. He knows that."

Martin spent last season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to repair& nbsp;a torn labrum.

Then, the Ravens didn't extend him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent after the season before later signing him to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum.

Now, they seem to value his contribution.

"Derrick is another one of those guys in that secondary that has shown some very good signs," defensive coordinator Greg Mattiso n said.

Martin entered training camp regarded as something of a long shot to make the team, but has made the most out of his opportunities at his new position.

"Yeah, I'm playing pretty good," Martin said. "With the amount of repetitions that I'm getting, I feel like I'm taking advantage of them. I'm out there playing my hardest. I'm starting to get used to safety and I'm liking it

"You can see so much back there at safety. It's kind of like being a quarterback out there. You can see everything and that's where you can make your name for yourself. You can set up your tackles and how you break on the football."

WEDGE RULE: Despite the NFL changing the rules and outlawing three- and four-man wedges, the Ravens haven't seen any illegal wedge calls this preseason. Harbaugh has voiced his complaints, too, contacting NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira to let him know that he's not happy about the lack of enforcement.

"I know in our two games the two wedges that got run, one was a four-man wedge and one was a three-man wedge, and they were zone wedges," Harbaugh said. "The purpose was to get that out of the game for injury reasons, and now it's still in the game. I think that's something that's got to be resolved before the season starts."

From a safety standpoint, the rule change was supposed to prevent catastrophic injuries like the one suffered by Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett. Based on what Harbaugh has seen, though, the rule isn't being called the way it has been explained by the NFL competition committee and NFL officials.

"The guys that run the three- and four-man wedges have basically dove right into that so-called gray area, and they're running wedges," Harbaugh said. "The whole purpose of th e rule, to make the game safer, is not going to happen the way it's been officiated in our preseason games."

QUICK HITS: The Ravens deactivated cornerback Samari Rolle (neck), wide receivers Mark Clayton (strained left hamstring) and Biren Ealy (groin), linebackers Terrell Suggs (strained left heel, Achilles' tendon) and Dannell Ellerbe (sprained right medial collateral ligament), offensive tackles Oniel Cousins (sprained right ankle) and Stefan Rodgers (sprained right foot), nose guard Kelly Gregg (shoulder), tight end L.J. Smith (pulled hamstring) and offensive guard Chris Chester (sprained right calf). ... Kelley Washington started at wide receiver ahead of Demetrius Williams. Marshal Yanda started at right guard in his most extended action yet of the preseason after missing the majority of last season with three torn knee ligaments. ... Brandon McKinney started in place of Ke lly Gregg ahead of Justin Bannan, . ... Rookie second-round outside linebacker-defensive end Paul Kruger started his third game in a row in place of Suggs. ... The Panthers deactivated linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, offensive guard C.J. Davis, running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams and safeties Charles Godfrey and Nate Salley. ...Cornerback Lardarius Webb led the Ravens with seven tackles, including one for a loss.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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