Sunday, August 30, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. | With Joe Flacco nearly perfect and Baltimore’s defense as ferocious as ever, the Ravens appear ready for the regular season.

The Carolina Panthers can only hope their injured players return quickly to shore up problems on both sides of the ball.

Flacco threw for 247 yards and a touchdown, the Ravens’ defense shut down Carolina’s first unit, and Baltimore beat the Panthers 17-13 on Saturday.

The third preseason game, where both teams played their starters into the third quarter, proved one-sided when the regulars were on the field. The Panthers, playing without their top two running backs and three starters on defense, were overwhelmed early by Flacco, who completed 23 of 28 passes.

The second-year quarterback directed first-half touchdown drives of 80 and 90 yards. He showed poise in the pocket the few times he was pressured, dumping balls to running backs and tight end Todd Heap, who caught the go-ahead 9-yard touchdown early in the second quarter.

Derrick Mason caught six passes for 71 yards, and Kelley Washington moved to the front of the crowded receivers race by catching three passes for 66 yards.

Jake Delhomme didn’t throw an interception in his first home appearance since committing six turnovers in a playoff loss to Arizona. He connected twice with Steve Smith for 37 yards in Smith’s first preseason action since bruising his shoulder, but the first team didn’t reach the end zone.

Delhomme finished 11-for-16 for 180 yards, with 48 coming against the Ravens’ second-stringers.

Baltimore (3-0), which rode its second-ranked defense to the AFC championship game a year ago, continued a dominant preseason in which it also has shut out Washington and held the New York Jets to one first down when the first teams matched up.

While the Ravens were without a handful of defensive starters, it helped that Carolina (0-3) didn’t have its stellar running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

With Williams resting a sore knee and Stewart sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, rookie Mike Goodson got the start. He was greeted by Ray Lewis for a 2-yard loss on the Panthers’ first possession.

Haloti Ngata and Antwan Barnes combined to sack Delhomme to end Carolina’s final possession of the first half, which produced only John Kasay’s 38-yard field goal.

The Ravens’ first-team defense was done for the night after Jarrett Johnson sacked Delhomme in a three-and-out to start the third quarter.

Delhomme completed a 38-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad late in the third quarter against the Ravens’ reserves. Josh McCown replaced Delhomme to start the fourth quarter, and DeCori Birmingham’s 1-yard touchdown run ended the drive.

Goodson had 11 carries for 52 yards for Carolina, which was greeted with cheers in its first home game since its playoff debacle against the Cardinals.

Defensive end Julius Peppers was warmly received after declaring in the offseason he wanted to play for another team. But Peppers was credited with only one tackle while matched up sometimes with Ravens rookie tackle Michael Oher.

The Panthers defense, which gave up 30 or more points in five of the final seven games last season, was without linebackers Jon Beason (knee), Thomas Davis (knee) and safety Charles Godfrey (hand).

While much of Carolina’s preseason has focused on improving the run defense after Maake Kemoeatu’s season-ending Achilles tendon injury, Flacco exposed Carolina’s secondary.

With Mark Clayton (hamstring) still out, Washington made his second straight start and caught a 17-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage. He later beat top Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble on a 42-yard catch.

Gamble had a missed tackle on Mason’s 26-yard catch that set up Willis McGahee’s 1-yard TD run that put Baltimore ahead 14-3 at halftime.

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