By David Rogers. October 28, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — Halloween is still a few days away, but to the horror of the Baltimore Ravens, the Carolina Panthers were more than ready to deliver tricks — AND treats for the football fans jamming Bank of America Stadium. Carolina produced 386 yards of total offense while the defense pressured the Ravens into three turnovers en route to a 36-21 win.
COVER IMAGE: Rookie wide receiver DJ Moore (12) picks up a chunk of his game-high 90 yards receiving, on just five catches. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
It was one of those “Chamber of Commerce” autumn days in Charlotte, a sun-drenched clear and crisp afternoon with the grandstands packed all the way to the nosebleed sections. Conditions for both playing and watching football were near perfect.
With the victory, Carolina improved its record to 5-2, still second behind the 6-1 New Orleans Saints in the NFC South Division. Baltimore fell to 4-4, third in the AFC North behind Pittsburgh (4-2) and Cincinnati (5-3). Four of the Panthers’ wins this season have been in the friendly confines of the Queen City arena.
As the first quarter unfolded, it looked like the Ravens could move the ball at will AND keep the Panthers’ dangerous offense off the field. Led by veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens’ fashioned a balanced, 11-play drive that covered 75 yards while taking 7:10 off the clock. Running back Alex Collins finished off the opening possession with a 14-yard push up the middle to give Baltimore an early, 7-0 lead.
Carolina’s drive in response faltered after moving the ball just 28 yards in seven plays, but Mike Palardy’s perfectly placed punt was downed by speedy wide receiver Curtis Samuel at the Baltimore 1-yard line. It was a pivotal special team’s play that put the Ravens’ backs against the wall with a long field in front of them and seemed to energize the Panthers in all phases. First, the defense held Baltimore to a three and out. Sam Koch’s punt covered 53 yards, but it was from his own end zone and gave Carolina a short field, starting with the ball on their own 46-yard line.
It took only three pass plays of 7, 18 and 18 yards — the first two to rookie wide receiver DJ Moore and the last to 4-year veteran Devin Funchess — to set up an 11-yard run around left end by second-year pro Christian McCaffrey for the tying score (with Graham Gano’s PAT).
On the second play of Baltimore’s very next offensive series, Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love punched the ball out of Collins’ hands as he ran up the middle. Carolina’s Vernon Butler recovered the fumble at the Baltimore 12-yard line. It took just three plays for quarterback Cam Newton, now in his 8th year with the Panthers, to find 12-year veteran tight end Greg Olsen on the left side for the go-ahead TD.
One of the only things that went right for Baltimore after the opening TD was a Koch punt that was downed by long snapper Morgan Cox on the Carolina 1-yard line. Newton and the offense, however, found their “mojo.” Jumpstarted by a 33-yard pass to Moore to get out of the proverbial hole, Newton had room to maneuver and subsequently engineered a 10-play drive that covered the 99 yards to paydirt when McCaffrey gathered in a tipped pass and waltzed in for the TD that put the Panthers ahead by two touchdowns, 21-7.
To close out the first half, the Panthers pulled a few tricks out of their Halloween bag after safety Mike Adams intercepted a Flacco pass at the Carolina 36 with just 52 seconds remaining. A Newton pass to Moore moved the chains a couple of more plays got the ball to the Baltimore 44 with five seconds remaining, within Gano’s field goal range. But a delay of game penalty moved the ball back to the 49.
Facing 4th-and-7 from the Baltimore 49 with just five seconds left and no more timeouts, head coach Ron Rivera disclosed to reporters later that they had considered a long field goal attempt by Gano that would have been close to 66 yards, “…but there was a crosswind,” he said.
Instead, they started thinking about a Hail Mary pass to the end zone. Newton said he didn’t want to do it. “He didn’t want to strain (his previously injured shoulder), in all honesty,” explained Rivera. “So Scott Turner (quarterbacks coach) suggested we put (backup QB) Taylor Heinicke out there.”
Rivera went on to explain that the initial idea was for Heinicke to find tight end Greg Olsen, but the Ravens had a defensive player go out to “jam” the veteran tight end. “So we were going to throw the Hail Mary, but that (defender on Olsen) came in and Greg signaled over to Taylor. Taylor saw him and it was a pitch and catch.”
Added Olsen, “I knew we had five seconds, so I thought we needed like three yards, right? I don’t know how many yards we ended up getting…but we didn’t have far to go to get Graham (Gano) over the hump and (into field goal range)…I didn’t really do anything. I just flowed off the line and (at that point) you’ve just got to try and catch it and then it is a race to get out of bounds. I could have gotten some more yards, but (as it was) we ended up with two seconds left.”
After nailing a 63 yard FG to defeat the New York Giants with time running out a few weeks ago, the 54-yarder on this day was a virtual chip shot and it extended the Panthers’ halftime advantage to 24-7.
Much of the second half was a defensive battle, although the Panthers picked up a pair of Gano field goals (44- and 30-yards) and a Newton TD run early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens managed a pair of consolation TDs in the final half of play, a 9-yard pass from Flacco to running back Javorius Allen and a 26-yard pass from 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to fellow rookie Hayden Hurst. Jackson’s TD toss was the first of his NFL career.
Reached by Blowing Rock News in the Ravens locker room after the game, Jackson described his transition from the college game to the NFL “…has been pretty cool…I’m watching Joe (Flacco) a lot out there and seeing how he performs. Seeing how he transitions from practice to a game situation has been really awesome.”
For the Panthers, the emergence of 2018 first round NFL draft pick DJ Moore (24th overall selection) and 2017 second round pick (40th overall) Curtis Samuel as star offensive weapons on Saturday was a special treat for Carolina football fans. In having both of them on the field at the same time, Rivera noted, “At that point there are so many things that we can do with those two young men on the football team. But again, we have (other) guys that have specialties as well. Coach Norv Turner (offensive coordinator) and the offense will continue to devise things that fit what we do.
“We had (Moore) playing in a few different spots,” added Rivera. “We moved him around to try and make it difficult to key in on him. I think all of the receivers did some really good things. We saw some with Curtis Samuel. We saw Jarius Wright make some plays and then Devin Funchess makes the plays that he always does. (Tight end) Greg Olsen really came up big and made some plays.”
The Panthers host NFC South rival Tampa Bay next Sunday, 1:00 pm, at Bank of America Stadium before traveling to Pittsburgh four days later for a Thursday night game against the Steelers.
- The Panthers’ Cam Newton completed 21-of-29 passes for 219 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions and no sacks
- Newton had several QB scrambles or called keepers to extend drives. He rushed 10 times for 52 yards and was credited with one TD
- Tight end Greg Olsen had arguably his best day back from early season injuries that kept him sidelined. He caught all of four passes targeted for 56 yards and a TD
- Punter Mike Palardy skillfully punted three times, averaged 45.7 yards, and placed two of them inside the 20 (one on the one-yard line)
- Curtis Samuel’s punt coverage in the first quarter after the Panthers’ first offensive possession downed the ball at the Baltimore one-yard line — a hole from which the Ravens never really recovered.
- Linebacker Shaq Thompson was credited with a game-high 13 tackles (6 solo)
- Eric Reid added 7 tackles (4 solo) AND was credited for a sack (6-yard loss), a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry
- Kyle Love forced a fumble in the first half and it was recovered by Vernon Butler
SLIDESHOW By David Rogers for Blowing Rock News