The Ravens didn't get the best jump out of the gates, but quickly turned things around in Thursday night's preseason opener.
In the process, they showcased one of their best and deepest position groups.
The Ravens' running backs starred in a 22-19 victory over the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium, kicking the 2016 season off in style.
Baltimore's "starters" were hardly the starters. In addition to the big names missing due to injuries, healthy scratches on the offense included quarterback Joe Flacco, right guard Marshal Yanda, wide receiver Kamar Aiken, running back Justin Forsett and tight end Benjamin Watson. Defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan didn't suit up on defense.
Panthers starting quarterback and reigning league MVP Cam Newton went 5-for-6 for 36 yards on the opening drive of the game. Carolina hit a reverse to open the game and strung together a 14-play drive, but the Ravens defense stiffened in the red zone and limited the Panthers to a field goal. That was it for Newton, but only on offense.
"We were playing together, but they did get a couple plays on us with the reverse and a screen," safety Eric Weddle said. "Overall, we were being competitive, guys were tight in coverage and we shored it up in the red zone."
The Ravens' first-team offense opened with a three-and-out, and then an interception that would have resulted in a pick-six had it not been for a penalty on Newton for running onto the field. It still led to a Panthers touchdown.
Baltimore's offense got into gear on its third drive in which all three running backs – Terrance West, Buck Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon – got in on the action. West finished it with a 1-yard touchdown leap. Allen scored the second touchdown on a 19-yard catch and run near the end of the first half, then West added his second touchdown of the game with a reverse-course 2-yard scamper.
The defense was stingy in the red zone throughout the night, including in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to hold on for a win.
The Ravens' second- and third-string players struggled in the preseason last year, which was perhaps a sign of things to come when injuries decimated Baltimore's starters. It's just one preseason game, but those units got off to a strong start against a good team in Carolina.
- Second-year outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith notched a sack-strip on the first play of the Panthers' second series, immediately putting the Ravens in scoring range. Five plays later, tight end Darren Waller had a pass bounce off his hands and land in the arms of Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein. Cam Newton's early celebration was the only thing that prevented a pick-six, but the Panthers still punched it in for a touchdown later on the drive.
- Allen gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter when he caught a screen pass and sprinted in for a 19-yard touchdown. It was the longest catch and run the Ravens had in the first half.
- West scored his second touchdown of the night on the Ravens' opening drive of the second half when he reversed course from 2 yards out and beat the Panthers defenders to the edge.
- Wide receiver/returner Kaelin Clay muffed a punt in the third quarter, setting the Panthers up inside the red zone. As the Ravens search for their punt returner, one mistake that won't be looked upon kindly is muffed punts. The Panthers turned it into a field goal to make it a one-score game.
- The Panthers drove to Baltimore's 4-yard line with less than three minutes remaining and the Ravens clinging to a three-point lead. In the spirit of avoiding overtime, the Panthers went for it on fourth down. Panthers quarterback Joe Webb's pass was incomplete with safety Matt Elam tight in coverage. The Ravens were still pinned deep near their end zone, but the Panthers muffed the ensuing punt to ensure Baltimore's win.
RB Terrance West
West has been wowing reporters with his training camp practice performances. He transferred that to the game, running a team-high nine times for 25 yards and catching one pass for 7 yards. He punched two goal-line rushes into the end zone, including one on fourth-and-1.
On The Horizon
The Ravens will travel to Indianapolis for their first road game of the season. The starters could see more action in the second game.