Game Recap - Ravens vs Panthers

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The Ravens had a dominating first half, good enough to put Sunday's matchup with the Carolina Panthers out of reach. 

But, a disappointing third quarter kept the Cats (1-9) in contention before Ed Reed and Ray Lewis both recorded interceptions for touchdowns with around five minutes left in regulation. 

At the end of the day, the Ravens (7-3) got enough out of their offense, and their defense clamped down to secure a lopsided 37-13 victory and remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North.

"I like the way our team fights," said Head Coach John Harbaugh.  "We were in control in the first half.  It should have been a bigger lead, if not for the turnovers.  The two long runs in the first half, those are things you can look at as a coach and improve upon.

"In the third quarter, we hit a lull.  We need to stay on the field. We need to convert third downs.  The game was closer than it should have been, but for those two guys on defense to close it out the way they did was impressive."

Talk of a Ravens offense that hasn't played well early on the road was answered when the Joe Flacco-led unit marched up and down the field in the first half. 

Talk of a Ravens defense that had given up fourth-quarter leads in each of Baltimore's three losses was alleviated by Reed and Lewis' slick picks of quarterback Brian St. Pierre.

Starting with a 56-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the Ravens' second play, Flacco completed 16 of 18 attempts to eight receivers for 213 yards in the opening two quarters.  The Ravens logged 16 first downs and only faced three third downs while jumping out to a 17-3 lead.

It was a different story in the third quarter.

The Ravens came out of the break with an 84-yard kickoff return by David Reed to the 18-yard line, but that only resulted in a Billy Cundiff field goal.  The Ravens followed it with five consecutive punts before Cundiff again split the uprights from 49 yards out to make the score 23-13 in the fourth. 

"We felt like we could have played better in the second half, even the first half. So we'll look at that," said Flacco, who's 301 passing yards was a season-best.  "These teams are all good. You can't look at their record. They're going to come out and play hard and when you let them have some success they're going to play even harder and harder."

Meanwhile, Carolina kept chipping away.  Two John Kasay field goals were supplemented by an 88-yard touchdown pass from the recently-signed St. Pierre to wideout David Gettis.  The rookie receiver took advantage of a safety blitz to beat Josh Wilson's one-on-one coverage, marking the second-longest completion allowed in Ravens history.

Playing in front of a half-filled home with a healthy contingent of Ravens fans, the Panthers faithful were invigorated by the electrifying play. 

The fervor didn't last long, as Baltimore was fired up, as well.

Said linebacker Terrell Suggs: "At that point we said, 'That's enough, we've let them play around long enough.'  We got the job done."

St. Pierre was helped all day by fourth-string running back Mike Goodson's 120 rushing yards, but the fact that the quarterback only had four practices in a Panthers uniform showed in the decisive fourth quarter.

At the 5:14 mark of regulation, St. Pierre was looking deep for tight end Dante Rosario, but Reed was there for his 50th career interception. Racing through pursuers, he pitched the ball to Dawan Landry, who crossed the goal line.

On the Panthers' ensuing offensive snap, St. Pierre was thieved by Lewis, who scored yet another touchdown.

As Lewis was mobbed by his teammates in the end zone, the only electric blue left in Charlotte was on the empty seats surrounding Bank of America Stadium's bowl.

Even though Carolina might have been clawing its way back into the game, Baltimore held strong.

"It don't get no better," said Lewis.  "After all that was said last week, now you come back.  We always talk about how one drive does not win the game. To play the way we did today, we knew this team would fight with everything they had.

"I just think overall, we just did the things we were supposed to.  It feels good to go back home 7-3."

Ever since they surrendered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter 10 days ago to the Atlanta Falcons, the Ravens' defense wanted to be the closer, as it had done so many times in the past.

Now, with a Week 11 matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the entire team must continue to close strong.

"The defense needs to be able to finish," said linebacker Jameel McClain. "That's what we did with our two leaders and the D-line getting more sacks at the end and getting that pressure. It is definitely important to finish strong."

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