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Third Preseason Game 'Like The Real Thing'

The last two weeks have given fans a sampling of what to expect once the actual season rolls around next month. 

But this Thursday's third preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium will provide the best look at the Ravens before they open the regular season Sept. 5 in Denver.

"Your first game is [to] knock the rust off, hit somebody else," Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Second game is [where you] play a little more. The third game is kind of like the real thing."

The third game is traditionally where the starters play the most during the preseason. The first unit often plays the entire first half and sometimes deep into the third quarter. After playing most of their starters the entire first half last week, the Ravens' first-team units will get plenty of action against the Panthers.

"This is like our last dress rehearsal before going into Denver," veteran safety Michael Huff said.  "We want to go out there and be clicking on all cylinders. This first half is going to be like a real game."

Head Coach John Harbaugh will treat playing time on a case-by-case basis for the starters.

"It's individualized," Harbaugh said. "There will be starters who probably play into the second half, and there will be starters who probably won't make it to the end of the half."

One consideration for Harbaugh that makes this year different is the fact that the Ravens open the regular season on a Thursday night, giving them less time to recover from the third preseason game.

The early start to the regular season also gives the Ravens less time to iron out any issues that creep up in the final two weeks of the preseason.

"This is going to be important," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be important the way that we play. We want to win every game. I'm really proud of the way our guys have found ways to win. But we also want to play well. And that means we look at every little thing.

"It's going to be a challenge for us, but it's going to be a great opportunity to take a step into the regular season from the preseason."

The Ravens have areas to clean up on both sides of the ball, as the starting offense has struggled in its first two showings and the defense had a few missteps last week against Atlanta. This week they want to put together a strong overall showing.

 "You just want to play good sound football," Suggs added. "And we have the opportunity to do that, especially against a great team and a phenomenal talent like Cam Newton."

In addition to the starters playing well, this week is the last opportunity for some of the young players fighting for roster spots. The team will make its first round of cuts next Tuesday, trimming the roster from 90 to 75 players, so the players late in the second half will be fighting for the chance to stay in the NFL for at least another week.

"Guys are fighting for a spot on the team," Harbaugh said. "Sometimes you get to this point and it's really close, it's like a football game and it's a three-point game with a minute left. Sometimes making the play at the end is the difference."

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