Carolina Panthers 34
Baltimore Ravens 27
The Panthers may still have problems on their offense that need to be fixed, but it became crystal clear on Thursday that the defense looks just fine.
The new unquestioned leader of this Carolina defense is second-year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was drafted in 2012 and earned Rookie of the Year honors last year. Kuechly, after leading the NFL in tackles in 2012, finished Thursday night’s extraordinary performance with seven total tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble. Aside from that, he forced Ravens’ quarterbacks into pressured throws all game, and was the most clearly the most dominant player on the field.
In total, the Panthers scored four non-offensive touchdowns against the Ravens, the most of any team so far this preseason. Receiver Ted Ginn returned a punt 74 yards for the first one, something he has grown accustomed to doing in his seven-year NFL career.
The next touchdown for Carolina came on a 71-yard interception return by eleventh-year veteran Drayton Florence, and on the ensuing Ravens possession linebacker Thomas Davis turned a Luke Kuechly forced fumble into six more points.
Later in the first half, quarterback Cam Newton (10-19, 99 yds) led a two-minute drill for the Panthers which ended in a Graham Gano 54-yard field goal, but overall it was a pretty rough night for Newton. Other than Steve Smith, the QB’s favorite target this year could very well be tight end Greg Olsen, who caught three balls for 44 yards.
In the second half, Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor also threw an interception, his to Panthers cornerback D.J. Moore, who took it back for Carolina’s fourth defensive touchdown.
The unit’s leading rusher on the night was second-year tailback Tauren Poole, rushing fifteen times for a total of 36 yards. Much like in year’s past, the Panthers will find success in their running game, but the quarterback play of Cam Newton will ultimately determine how far they will go.
Ron Rivera’s team’s final preseason game will be Thursday at home versus the Steelers, while their regular season opener will be also at home against the Seahawks.