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Carolina Panthers defense was great, but the offense . . . yuck

BALTIMORE OK, so you want the good news or the bad news first?

Let’s lead off with the good news, because there was certainly a lot of that. With both teams playing their starters for most of three quarters, Carolina edged the Baltimore Ravens, 34-27, Thursday night on the road on national television.

The Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions. But the Panthers had the best player on the field in linebacker Luke Kuechly – who, in Ray Lewis’ old stomping grounds, looked like Lewis in his prime.

The Panthers also scored a ridiculous 28 points on four touchdown returns of various stripes – Ted Ginn Jr.’s 74-yard punt return, Drayton Florence’s 71-yard interception return, Thomas Davis’ 2-yard fumble return and D.J. Moore’s 33-yard interception return. If this had been fantasy football, and a regular-season game, it would have been an unbelievable day to own Carolina’s defense and special teams.

Now the bad news.

All those glamorous TDs disguised the fact that, once again, the Panthers’ offense had all sorts of trouble moving the ball. Cam Newton’s six series at quarterback ended like this, in order: punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt and field goal.

Newton has managed only one touchdown drive in 14 possessions this preseason, and that drive was walking distance (18 yards). When your first-team offense is eight times more likely to punt than to score a TD – and that’s what the Panthers have been through three exhibitions – that’s a problem.

Newton wasn’t that sharp throwing (10 for 19 for 99 yards). But he got little help, so don’t blame him for all of it.

On one drive, the Panthers got to second-and-1, ran the ball twice and gained nothing. In Carolina’s two-minute drive at the end of the first half, Newton delivered a 20-yard strike that would have ended up with a first down around the Baltimore 15, only to have Brandon LaFell drop it.

The Panthers’ offensive line looked woefully overmatched at times against the Ravens’ defense. At halftime, the Panthers’ offense had only five first downs – and yet Carolina was up 24-7 because the rest of the team kept making huge plays.

And oh, number 59.

Kuechly played one of the most astonishing halves I’ve ever seen from a defensive player. He was partially responsible for two of the TDs. Kuechly’s blitz on Joe Flacco helped force the bad decision that led to Florence’s return. He jarred the ball loose from Baltimore’s Bernard Pierce with a monstrous hit that set up Davis’s 2-yard TD recovery.

Kuechly also got called for a questionable penalty after hitting a Baltimore player high on another deflection that caused an interception that was nullified. Two plays later, he intercepted Flacco himself. It was crazy how good he was.

The second half devolved. Flacco came out in the third quarter with the Ravens trailing, 27-17, and Newton was out right after that.

The Ravens’ reserves generally outplayed Carolina’s reserves, but not by enough to mess up the Carolina victory. The offensive deficiencies were covered up by Ginn, Kuechly and the rest. It won’t work out like that forever, but for Panther fans it sure was pretty while it lasted.



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