Some thoughts from the first 30 minutes of the Panthers' third exhibition game -- they are trailing Baltimore at halftime, 14-3, as I write this:
-- Carolina’s Steve Smith saw his first preseason action of 2009 after missing the first two games due to shoulder injury and knocked a bit of rust off early. His physical, confrontational style hasn’t changed a bit.
Smith blasted Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth out of bounds with a big block on Carolina’s first play from scrimmage. Later, Smith caught his first pass, tried to stiff-arm Foxworth and ended up face-masking him instead, drawing a penalty.
But at least Smith was using that formerly injured shoulder with authority. Later, he did successfully stiff-arm Foxworth on a 26-yard run off a flanker screen. Smith’s return was one of the most positive things about a very uneven game for Carolina.
-- The Panthers’ first-team defense seemed to have forgotten what a “3-and-out” was in the first half, but it certainly understood “10-and-in.” Baltimore had long touchdown marches on two of its first three drives – one of them a 90-yarder. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco repeatedly whipped the Panthers D, throwing very effectively to Derrick Mason when he was matched up on Carolina’s Chris Gamble.
Baltimore almost scored TDs on its first three drives. On the other one, the Ravens got to a first-and-goal at the 1 before two penalties, a Tyler Brayton sack and a missed field goal short-circuited that one. That first half was certainly not what new Panther defensive coordinator Ron Meeks wanted.
-- The game was remarkably well-attended given that it didn’t count. Although Bank of America stadium was only a tenth full 30 minutes before kickoff, it wound up close to 90 percent full. Charlotte is obviously ready for another football season.
-- It’s only preseason, but Panthers coach John Fox is starting to get into regular-season mode. On third-and-14 from the Baltimore 24, with the score tied 0-0 in the first quarter, the Panthers called timeout.
After a sideline discussion they went with a three-receiver set – and a draw play featuring fourth-string running back Decori Birmingham. The Panthers needed a timeout to come up with that? You can probably guess it came up short.