Backups McGahee and Clayton stand out in Ravens' victory to open preseason
PHOTOS () -
By Jamison Hensley
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE - The Ravens opened the preseason by showcasing their passing game for a national television audience.
But the Ravens' 17-12 victory over the Carolina Panthers before an announced crowd of 70,579 at M&T Bank Stadium came with an unexpected wrinkle. They won with their old weapons instead of their new ones.
Relying on a couple of backups - running back Willis McGahee and wide receiver Mark Clayton - quarterback Joe Flacco guided the Ravens to scores on two of three drives, leaving with a near-perfect quarterback rating (127.1) and a satisfying 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
This was supposed to be the night where Flacco enthralled fans by throwing to two of the team's biggest offseason acquisitions, wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth. Instead, Flacco put together an efficient performance (8-for-12 for 120 yards and one touchdown) by going to role players, not the more-hyped ones.
"We need to clean some things up," Flacco said, "but overall it was a good start."
The Ravens' first offensive series started at midfield after safety Tom Zbikowski sacked Carolina quarterback Matt Moore and returned the punt 28 yards. Flacco completed a 23-yard pass to Derrick Mason and an 18-yard one to Mark Clayton, setting up a 32-yard field goal by Shayne Graham.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, Flacco started his last series at the Ravens' 4-yard line. His first completion to Boldin went for 12 yards and gave the Ravens breathing room.
Flacco then completed four straight short passes to McGahee for 12, 8, 13 and 4 yards as the Ravens practiced their screen plays. He finished off a length-of-the-field drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Clayton, who benefited by Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn misplaying the ball.
"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 was 6-for-6 for 79 yards on the 96-yard marathon drive. Perhaps the more telling number was the play selection: The Ravens called 15 pass plays and five running ones.
"It was a great start for us," Flacco said, "and I was happy we were able to cap it off with a touchdown on that last drive."
The offense had its problems at times. Rookie nose tackle Terrence Cody, who was put in the game to play fullback, had a false start on a third-down play at the Carolina 5-yard line. Left tackle Michael Oher and left guard Ben Grubbs both gave up sacks to Tyler Brayton.
"I think we are where we want to be for this point in time, but we still have a lot of work to do," McGahee said. "We need to do a better job of blocking for the quarterback because they got a couple of sacks in the first half. That's something that we can't allow them to do because we need to keep Joe clean. Still, I think we are all happy that we kept moving the ball down the field."
The Ravens' defense was thin at cornerback. Fabian Washington (knee) and Lardarius Webb (knee) were sidelined, and Chris Carr (hamstring) left after two plays.
With Travis Fisher and Cary Williams playing most of the first half at corner, the Ravens helped them out by putting pressure on the Panthers. Carolina's first drive ended on Zbikowski's sack and strip of Moore. The Panthers' third drive was stalled by two holding calls on starting left tackle Jordan Gross, who couldn't block the Ravens' Antwan Barnes.
After backup quarterback Marc Bulger fumbled on his first series, the Ravens' second-team defense made an impressive red-zone stand. Safety Haruki Nakamura forced running back Tyrell Sutton to fumble at the Ravens' 1-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."
The Ravens were helped out by the Carolina's sloppy play. The Panthers' 47-yard field goal attempt was ruined by a bad snap, which closed out the first half with the Ravens leading 10-3.
During a downpour in the third quarter, Ravens third-string running back Jalen Parmele's fumble was returned 31 yards by safety C.J. Wilson.
But the Panthers failed to tie the game at 10 when John Kasay's point-after attempt hit the right upright.
"We were just getting the kinks out, and still, as much as you practice, there's nothing like game speed and sustaining a tempo like this," Zbikowski said. "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."
The biggest play of the game for the Ravens came late in the third quarter, when undrafted rookie Prince Miller broke five tackles and returned a punt 57 yards. Third-string quarterback Troy Smith went untouched to the end zone on an 8-yard draw to extend the Ravens' advantage to 17-9.
The only mistake in that series was the touchdown celebration. After Smith gave the ball to offensive tackle Joe Reitz, the 6-foot-7 former basketball player leapt in the air but couldn't get the ball over the goal post.
"We did some things well and some not," said coach John Harbaugh, whose Ravens have won five straight preseason games. "That's good for the first preseason game. We have enough teachable moments."
(c) 2010, The Baltimore Sun.
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