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 are 0-3.
The Panthers faltered Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens in the most realistic fake game they will play. Both teams played their starters at least 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 of the game. The offense didn't score a touchdown for the first three quarters. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco dissected the Panthers.
Now it's true that the Panthers' top two running backs – DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart – didn't play. Neither did their top two linebackers – Jon Beason and Thomas Davis.
But Baltimore was missing three starters, too, and simply went about its business.
Ravens quarterback Flacco threw for 247 yards and was 23-for-28, playing until midway through the third quarter. It was hard to remember the passes he didn't complete. He especially made Panthers 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 himself, throwing passes of 38 yards to Muhsin Muhammad and 31 to Jeff King. Josh McCown finished up Delhomme's lone scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, as Delhomme came out of the game as scheduled after three periods.
McCown threatened to make things interesting. He drove the Panthers to a field goal on their next march, cutting the Ravens lead to 17-13. But the Panthers' defense, filled with a mixture of second- and third-teamers, couldn't stop Baltimore from running out the clock.
So it was Loss No.3 for the Panthers, this time on a gorgeous night. 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 to Carolina than that 0-3 mark – Beason's knee injury is worrisome, as are the running backs' nicks. It didn't appear that 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 uninspiring. There is a whole lot of work to do in the Panther-land.