It's still preseason, but we're already getting reruns.
The Carolina Panthers are as glad as any team in the NFL that these exhibitions don't count, because they now stand 0-3.
The Panthers faltered Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens in the most realistic of the four fake games they will play. Both teams played their starters well into the third quarter. Baltimore won 17-13 despite Steve Smith's first action of the preseason and a nice game from rookie running back Mike Goodson.
What went wrong for Carolina? A lot. The Panthers first-team defense looked lost for large stretches. Coach John Fox said the tackling was not crisp, which was putting it mildly.
The Panthers offense didn't score a touchdown for three quarters. Fox said the team too often got into third-and-unmanageable situations. Baltimore more than doubled Carolina in first downs (26-12) and outgained the Panthers 421-281.
Now it's a fact the Panthers' top running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart didn't play because of injuries. Neither did their top linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.
But Baltimore was missing three starters and simply went about its business.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 247 yards and was 23-for-28 while playing until midway through the third quarter. Flacco might have had 400 yards had he played the whole game. It's hard to remember any of the five passes he didn't complete.
We were in a groove, Flacco said, which is never something you want the opposing quarterback to say postgame if you're the Panthers.
Flacco especially made cornerback Chris Gamble look silly, repeatedly playing pitch-and-catch with Derrick Mason despite Gamble's best efforts to earn the shutdown corner money he makes.
Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme had decent stats and threw passes of 38 yards to Muhsin Muhammad and 31 to Jeff King. It was obvious Delhomme and Smith didn't quite have their usual chemistry yet, but that likely will solve itself.
Josh McCown finished up Delhomme's lone scoring drive early in the fourth period, as Delhomme came out of the game as scheduled after three quarters.
The Panthers did cut a 17-3 Baltimore lead to 17-13. But Baltimore's reserves ran out the final 3minutes, 39seconds against the Panther reserves, and that was that.
So it was Loss No.3 for the Panthers. Carolina's final exhibition will come Thursday night, at home against Pittsburgh.
Now does this mean it's time to panic, Panthers fans?
Absolutely not. Preseason results just don't mean much.
The injury situation is far more important than that 0-3 mark. Beason's knee injury is worrisome, as are the running backs' nicks. It didn't appear anyone else got hurt Saturday night, which was the best news (other than Smith's return) to come out of this one.
Nevertheless, the overall effort was as uninspiring as a piece of soggy toast. Just not crisp, to use the word Fox kept repeating.
Somebody better reset the oven in Panther-land; there's not much time left to get this right.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; email@example.com; twitter.com/scott_fowler
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