Ravens' offense effective in preseason win

BALTIMORE – Joe Flacco uncorked a spiral, crisply lobbing the football high into the air toward Mark Clayton as the wide receiver elevated above stumbling cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. And Clayton hauled in the 30-yard touchdown pass from Flacco, a fairly encouraging moment for the Baltimore Ravens' offense to cap a commanding drive.

The second quarter score was easily the high point of the Ravens' 17-12 victory Thursday night over the Carolina Panthers to open the preseason before an announced crowd of 70,579 at rain-soaked M&T Bank Stadium.

"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 began the drive by connecting with Anquan Boldin for the first time in a game since the Ravens acquired the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. The 12-yard completion on a simple hitch route drew heavy applause.

Flacco completed his next five passes to finish 6 for 6 on the drive for 79 yards, engineering a 10-play, 96-yard drive.

When his night ended, Flacco had completed 8 of 12 throws for 120 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 127.1 passer rating.

"We moved the ball a little bit," Boldin said. "There are still some things that we need to clean up, but for the most part I think we did what we needed to do."

The Ravens spent the majority of the half featuring Willis McGahee and Clayton with the first-team offense. It seemed like they were featuring both players, who have been linked to trade rumors.

Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice barely played. "I don't think our plan was to give Ray a lot of work going into the game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

There were some sloppy moments for the Ravens, especially reserve running back Jalen Parmele fumbling in the third quarter on an Eric Moore hit with C.J. Wilson returning it for a 31-yard touchdown.

Overall, though, it was a solid launch of the preseason.

"We did some things well and some not, and that's good for the first preseason game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We have enough teachable moments. Our run defense with the second unit isn't what we want, but the secondary and special teams played well."

Pass protection was definitely an issue as left offensive tackle Michael Oher and left guard Ben Grubbs were each beaten once by defensive end Tyler Brayton for sacks.

"We have to pass protect better than we did in the first half," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We didn't really try to run in the first half. We emphasized throwing downfield, and we had some success."

The Ravens' first drive stalled when rookie nose guard Terrence "Mount" Cody was inserted into the game at fullback and was flagged for a false start. On the ensuing play, Brayton sacked Flacco.

The Ravens had to settle for a 32-yard Shayne Graham field goal. Graham, who's competing with Billy Cundiff for the kicker job, missed a 50-yard attempt a few feet wide right in the second quarter. Cundiff had no field goal tries, hitting two extra points.

"We need to clean some things up, but overall it was a good start," Flacco said. "We drove the ball down there and were tripped up with that penalty, but that's okay because of some of those guys are not used to being down there. Hopefully, during the season we'll be able to capitalize on that drive."

Free safety Tom Zbikowski made a strong impression with the first-team defense as the frontrunner to step in for injured former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed.

In the first quarter, Zbikowski dashed into the backfield on a blitz as he decked quarterback Matt Moore for a sack and forced fumble.

"The lanes really cleared up because we had some guys in the front that just opened up the blitz," Zbikowski said. "Carolina was in a protection that is perfect for that blitz. Basically, I was just trailing behind two guys and I was able to storm in free."

Then, Zbikowski decisively got upfield for a 28-yard punt return.

In the second half, rookie cornerback Prince Miller topped that with an electrifying 57-yard return.

The diminutive undrafted free agent will need plays like that in his bid to make the team. The Ravens decided to hold out cornerback Fabian Washington, who's recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season. Travis Fisher started in his place.

After originally announcing that cornerback Chris Carr would be deactivated because of a hamstring injury, the Ravens opted to start him.

Carr's leg seemed to hold up, and he was replaced by Cary Williams after a few plays.

In the third quarter, Williams intercepted Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

"We were just getting the kinks out," Zbikowski said. "As much as you practice, there's nothing like game speed and sustaining a tempo like this. There are going to be mistakes, but we're all working to be on the same page. I think we exhibited that by not giving up many big plays."

Despite being without Reed, Washington and Lardarius Webb and Williams playing through a toe injury, the secondary held up against a one-dimensional offense missing star wide receiver Steve Smith due to a broken arm.

"The bottom line is always the next man up for us," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It's not about one part of who we are. The bottom line is if our secondary's hurt, then our front seven's got to get it done. We don't have to worry about that."

In the second quarter, the Ravens turned in their first goal-line stand of the season.

Following backup quarterback Marc Bulger's fumble after being sacked from behind by Eric Norwood, the Panthers drove down to the Ravens' four-yard line.

Playing in his first game since a gruesome broken leg last season against the Cleveland Browns, safety Haruki Nakamura popped the football out of running back Tyrell Sutton's hands. And outside linebacker Antwan Barnes recovered at the Ravens' one-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." Mattison wasn't pleased, though, with the run defense overall.

The Ravens allowed 104 rushing yards on 15 carries in the first half alone.

"We need to play better in the run defense," Mattison said. "I think we had some guys too focused on getting to the quarterback and some out of position."

The Ravens recorded seven sacks.

"That was great to see, young players bringing it," Harbaugh said. "Most of it was three and four-man rush. Our pressure package was there early."

Bulger completed 5 of 12 passes for 67 yards and a 60.1 passer rating.

The Ravens led 10-9 in the third quarter after Panthers kicker John Kasay missed an extra point following Wilson's touchdown, ricocheting the kick off the right goal post.

On what appeared to be a designed quarterback, former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith found a seam in the middle of the Panthers' defense for an eight-yard touchdown to put Baltimore ahead 17-9.

Smith completed only 2 of 6 passes for 18 yards. Pro Bowl fullback Le'Ron McClain has passionately campaigned for more carries via his Twitter account.

And the burly 260-pounder backed up his words by rushing for 21 yards on four carries, busting through tackles for a 14-yard run.

"I'm not voting for McClain even though he gave me one of his T-shirts," Harbaugh said. "It was good to see him run hard. We know he can play, and we're having fun with him."

Among the other noteworthy performances: Cody's four tackles, including one for a loss, defensive end Paul Kruger and linebacker Tavares Gooden sacking Clausen and McGahee catching four screen passes for 37 yards.

"The offense looked pretty good, and we really had our screen game going on," McGahee said. "That's something we've really been working on. We need to do a better job of blocking for the quarterback. We need to keep Joe clean. Still, I think we are happy that we kept moving the ball down the field."

NOTE: Lewis gave a positive update on Reed, who's out indefinitely following offseason hip surgery.

"Just to listen to him, I think he's excited just about his improvement and where he is," Lewis told ESPN. "The surgery is healing kind of fast. I won't really speak for him. I just speak about what he told me. He's just feeling good. Anytime you can come out of surgery and hear somebody is feeling good, that's all you can ask for."

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