Joe Flacco opened Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers on fire.
He marched the offense down the field for an 11-play touchdown drive on the game’s opening series, making crisp throws and improvising with his feet.
It looked like Flacco and the Ravens offense were in store for a big day. But that was where the fun stopped.
Baltimore’s offense never got back into a rhythm, and Flacco struggled for much of the afternoon as the Ravens fell to the Panthers, 36-21.
“We got our butts kicked today, and it’s tough to take for sure,” Flacco said. “They made everything tough today.”
Even on the opening drive where the Ravens marched down the field for the touchdown, Flacco said it wasn’t easy. The Panthers took away the big plays and made the Ravens go the long way to put up points.
Flacco took a couple of deep shots to John Brown and Michael Crabtree, but couldn’t connect on anything. Flacco had to rely on the short and intermediate passing game and finished the day completing 22-of-39 passes for 192 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
“We weren’t able to really get any chunk yardage out of anything, so everything we had, we had to fight for hard,” Flacco said. “They definitely came up and played us man to man, and even though we were completing a lot of passes early and moving the chains, we weren’t able to get very many chunks.”
On a day when yards were tough to come by, the Ravens also made life hard on themselves with turnovers. They turned the ball over three times, as running back Alex Collins had a fumble to go along with Flacco’s two picks.
Collins’ fumble, which happened when defensive tackle Kyle Love shot through the offensive line virtually unblocked and met him in the backfield right after he received the handoff, gave the Panthers great field position that they turned into an early touchdown.
Flacco’s interceptions came as the Ravens were trying to get back into the game. On the first one, Flacco was running along the sideline and looked like he was just throwing the ball away when he sailed a pass into the hands of safety Mike Adams. The second pick was a pass over the middle of the field that cornerback Captain Munnerlyn pulled in for the takeaway.
The turnovers hurt, but Flacco stressed after the game that they weren’t the only issues the Ravens had offensively.
“I really just think those turnovers kind of made it an easy excuse for why we ended up not playing well,” he said. “I think even without those, we were having a tough time going out there and moving the ball the way we wanted to today.”
Part of the challenge for Flacco was dealing with pressure from Carolina’s defensive front. The Ravens played without starting right tackle James Hurst (back) and left guard Alex Lewis (neck), and left tackle Ronnie Stanley was also sidelined at times after suffering a leg injury during the game.
The pressure forced some rushed, off-target throws, and Flacco was also sacked twice on the day.
“We didn’t have a lot of continuity,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We had more pressure than we’re probably used to having. That’s a good pass rush team. They blitzed us more than they normally do, played more man [coverage] than they normally do. That’s all stuff we have to look at.”
Flacco wasn’t sharp, but his targets didn’t help him out in several situations. Wide receivers Willie Snead IV and Brown, and tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews all had drops.
Flacco finished the game watching from the sideline as the game was out of reach with the Panthers leading by three scores. Rookie Lamar Jackson took over on the final series and led a scoring drive capped off by a touchdown to fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst.
The Ravens were clearly frustrated after the loss, and Flacco acknowledged that he’s shocked the Ravens are 4-4 at the season’s midpoint. They now return home for a matchup with the rival Steelers next week, and Flacco’s message was that this team must prove itself over the second half of the year.
“We’re going to have to see what we’re made of here,” he said.
Check out the best images from Sunday's Week 8 game in Carolina.