BALTIMORE – For starters, the Carolina Panthers looked awfully good.
The rest of the way, it was a mixed bag befitting of a preseason opener.
After the Panthers' starters made a strong opening statement, the Baltimore Ravens rallied against the reserves to claim a 22-19 victory over the Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium.
"We were in rhythm," said quarterback Cam Newton, whose night was done after a successful opening series. "We just wanted to come out and execute and push the tempo. We knew we weren't going to get a lot of snaps with the first bunch, but to see the guys go out there and compete in all three phases was good.
"We've just got to get the young guys acclimated to the standard that we've set around here and get the trust part down."
Carolina's first-team offense, featuring the usual suspects save running back Jonathan Stewart and center Ryan Kalil, took the opening kickoff and promptly marched 68 yards, exhausting nearly half of the opening quarter even with an up-tempo pace on its way to a field goal. The first-team defense, with all 11 starters on the field, spent a lot less time out there, quickly forcing a three-and-out.
Newton was 5-for-6 on the opening drive for 36 yards, hitting four different receivers on the only drive for him and several of the starters. It was the same for the defense, with linebackers Shaq Thompson and Thomas Davis making nice plays before giving way to the reserves.
"I'm very pleased with what the first unit did coming out with the rhythm that they did," said head coach Ron Rivera, who did express some concern about the performance of some reserves. "We've got to look at it and shore things up and make sure we've got the right guys in the right position. That's probably the biggest thing."
After Newton's series was over, his evening was not. After backup quarterback Derek Anderson was stripped on his first snap in place of Newton, the Panthers' mostly second-string defense responded with a huge play. Linebacker A.J. Klein corralled a pass that bounded off Baltimore wide receiver Darren Waller and ran 94 yards untouched for an apparent touchdown, but Newton was flagged for coming on the field to celebrate.
"I broke on the throw, the guy bobbled it, and it just kind of fell in my lap. I made one guy miss, and then Shaq escorted me down the field," explained Klein, who said he spoke to Newton after the play. "He came up and apologized. That could have possibly been the difference in the game, but it's just a chance for us to learn a lesson before the regular season."
The call left Carolina 26 yards shy of the end zone, but after one of Brenton Bersin's five receptions gave the Panthers a first-and-goal, Anderson hit wide receiver Devin Funchess with a perfectly executed back-shoulder throw for a 10-yard score and a 10-0 lead.
"It was a simple fade route, and I was reading how the defender was going to play me," Funchess said. "Me and D.A. were on the same page, and he threw it back shoulder."
The Ravens began finding success against Carolina's backup defense on the ensuing drive and twice found the end zone before half to lead 14-13. Running back Terrence West's second touchdown of the game on a long drive to open the second half, and a subsequent two-point conversion, increased the edge to 22-13.
Graham Gano converted a 36-yard field goal in each of the final two quarters after the Panthers had forced turnovers to pull Carolina within 22-19. Gano also made a field goal in each of the first two quarters.
The Panthers could have turned to Gano to tie the game in the final three minutes with a short field goal but weren't interested in overtime. The Ravens broke up a Joe Webb pass on fourth-and-goal from the 4 to secure the victory.
When the starters were in, rookie cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley were among the final first-teamers to depart. On a team featuring continuity pretty much everywhere else coming off a 15-1 season, a lot of eyes were on the inexperienced secondary.
"They made some good plays," safety Kurt Coleman said. "James had a pass breakup in the end zone and another one on the other sideline, so they're getting their feet wet. They're growing every single rep, which is great because they've really made a lot of strides."
View game action photos from Carolina's 22-19 loss to Baltimore.