BALTIMORE – Had it been a midseason game, Panthers head coach John Fox likely would have been livid.
But because it was the first preseason game – with an ultra-young team to boot – Fox was more curious than he was furious.
"I'll have to look at the tape, but I thought overall that it was pretty good," Fox said after the Panthers fell 17-12 to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night in front of 70,579 fans at M&T Bank Stadium. "Unfortunately we came up a little short.
"We hurt ourselves some, but we had a lot of young guys out there playing. They did pretty good."
In the regular season, the Panthers would be bemoaning mistakes that proved to be the difference between victory and defeat: a lost fumble at the goal line, a dropped snap on a field goal, and a pair of holding calls that killed a promising possession.
In the preseason opener, however, the fact that the Panthers had so many opportunities against a strong Ravens defense appeared to trump the fact that many of them turned into missed opportunities.
Carolina outgained Baltimore 273 yards to 225.
"There were plays to be made, and that's a good sign. We're moving in the right direction," said starting quarterback Matt Moore, who hit on 4 of 7 passes for 32 yards while playing the first three series. "We'll have another challenge next week, and, hopefully, we'll execute.
"There are no worries whatsoever. Those things are going to happen. We'll watch the tape and get those things fixed."
The Panthers' defensive line, a new group questioned throughout the offseason on how it would generate a pass rush with the departure of Julius Peppers, racked up six sacks – more than the Panthers tallied in any game in 2009.
Defensive end Tyler Brayton, the lone returning starter along the line, sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco twice in the first quarter before leaving with an ankle injury, and rookie end Greg Hardy matched Brayton's pair. Nick Hayden and rookie Eric Norwood added a sack apiece, with Norwood's coming from defensive end even though he played more than half his snaps at linebacker.
In addition, defensive end Eric Moore forced a fumble from Ravens running back Jalen Parmele that cornerback C.J. Wilson picked up and returned 31 yards for the Panthers' lone touchdown. Moore also recovered a fumble that set up John Kasay's 45-yard field goal with 4:10 left, but the Panthers ran out of time.
"As a group, we were productive," Norwood said. "That's the main thing, but we've still got areas to improve in.
"But to start off like that is a good thing."
While the Panthers had six sacks, they allowed seven. They also committed nine penalties, seven of them whistled against an offensive line considered a strength.
"That's an area that's a little later to come around, and we are missing a few players there," Fox said. "It's an area that I'm comfortable will get better."
Flacco got the Ravens off to a good start. He directed them to a field goal on their first possession, then led them on a 10-play, 96-yard drive for a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Flacco was 6-for-6 on the drive for 79 yards, capping the TD march with a lob to Mark Clayton for a 30-yard score.
Clausen made his debut on the Panthers' next series and led them to their first score, a 37-yard field goal from Kasay. Clausen made several heady plays over the course of his six drives despite a heavy pass rush, finishing 8-for-15 for 80 yards and an interception when a receiver slipped.
Hunter Cantwell went 6-for-17 for 68 yards in his time, and Tony Pike missed the mark on his lone attempt.
"I thought they all did good -- when we had time to pass," Fox said. "I thought offensively we killed ourselves a little bit with some penalties, and we had that fumble there on the 1, but I thought we moved the ball efficiently."
The fumble that Fox referenced came shortly after Kasay's second-quarter field goal. On Baltimore's subsequent drive, Norwood got to Ravens backup quarterback Marc Bulger and forced a fumble – recovered by cornerback Brian Witherspoon – that set Carolina up 31 yards from the tying score.
Running back Tyrell Sutton helped get Carolina close to the goal line but lost a fumble at the 1. Then, after Baltimore missed a long field goal, Clausen got the offense in position for a 48-yard attempt on the last play of the half, but punter Jason Baker – who did launch a trio of punts 55-plus yards – dropped the snap.
The Panthers finally broke through in the third quarter on Wilson's fumble return. Kasay, however, missed the PAT off the right upright in a driving rain that fell most of the second half to keep it at 10-9.
While Fox was pleased with his quarterbacks, they couldn't consistently find wide receivers. Kenny Moore had a spectacular 25-yard grab in traffic from Clausen, and Dexter Jackson snared a 25-yarder on the game's last drive from Cantwell, but of the six Panthers with multiple catches, just two were wide receivers.
Three running backs – Sutton, Tony Fiammetta and Josh Vaughan – had more than one catch, and Sutton, Vaughan and DeAngelo Williams all topped 30 rushing yards and all enjoyed a run of 14 or more yards.
"Preseason games, you're allowed to let it all hang out," Williams said. "You can be loose and let loose – that's what Coach Fox tries to preach. Unfortunately for us tonight, us letting loose, we kind of had some penalties and shot ourselves in the foot.
"We can't have that."