BALTIMORE — John Harbaugh listed all the good things the Baltimore Ravens did in their third preseason game.
“Very pleased about most everything about the game,” he said. “I like the way we played, I liked how we played.”
Then he stated the obvious.
“I just didn’t like the four returns for touchdowns,” the coach concluded.
Ted Ginn Jr. took a punt 74 yards for a touchdown, and the Carolina Panthers’ defense scored three times in a 34-27 victory over the reigning Super Bowl champions Thursday night.
Drayton Florence ran an interception 71 yards into the end zone, Thomas Davis scored on a 2-yard fumble return and linebacker Luke Kuechly picked off another of Joe Flacco’s passes late in the second quarter to set up a 54-yard field goal by Graham Gano for a 24-7 lead.
“I was able to read the quarterback and make a play on it,” Kuechly said.
Carolina (2-1) had only 67 yards in offense before halftime, yet reeled off 24 straight points after Baltimore (2-1) scored on its first possession. Late in the third quarter, D.J. Moore intercepted a pass by Tyrod Taylor and ran 31 yards for a touchdown to make it 34-17.
After collecting four turnovers against the Ravens, the Panthers have 10 in three games.
“Turnovers are great. It’s paying off big-time,” said Kuechly, the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. “We’ve had quite a few turnovers in each game and that’s huge for us. Defensive coaches have done a good job of stressing it.”
Flacco, the Super Bowl MVP, played into the third quarter and went 18 for 24 for 169 yards and a touchdown. In three preseason games, he has two TD passes and three interceptions.
Although he produced 10 points in the third quarter, Flacco was far from satisfied with the performance of the first-team offense.
“We obviously turned the ball over, and you lose more games than you win in this league when you do that,” he said. “With what we did tonight, we’re not going to win a lot of football games.”
The Ravens finished with 27 first downs compared to 14 for Carolina, outgained the Panthers 357-173 and had an 11-minute edge in time of possession.
“It’s one thing to always remember: When you score (three) touchdowns on defense and on special teams, the offense doesn’t get back out there,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “The opportunities are limited. Having said that, 3.7 yards an average offensive play is not good enough, not in this league.”
They’ll win plenty with a 4-0 edge in turnovers, though.
“Tonight was one of those games that we did a lot of good things, but we had some miscommunication and turned the ball over too much,” Flacco said.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton completed 10 of 19 passes for 99 yards.
Carolina lost backup receiver Kealoha Pilares in the first quarter because of a knee injury. He will have an MRI on Friday.
“There’s a little concern, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Rivera said.
Guard Amini Silatolu left in the second quarter with a strained hamstring and running back Kenjon Barner rolled his ankle.
Baltimore’s opening drive was a display of precision. Flacco went 5 for 5 for 45 yards, connecting with three receivers during a nine-play, 69-yard march that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice.
“We opened the game the way we want to play and know how we can play,” Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said at halftime. “We were crisp, we were fast and we were in rhythm.”
The next time, though, Flacco missed on three straight passes to set up a punt. Ginn eluded the first wave of tacklers, broke up the middle and held the ball aloft at around the 20 with punter Sam Koch in futile pursuit.
That enabled the Panthers to get out of the first quarter in a tie at 7 despite making only one first down and 38 yards on nine plays.
Early in the second quarter, Flacco was attempting to convert a third-and-10 when Florence intercepted the pass and took it down the right sideline for a touchdown.
After the kickoff, Bernard Pierce fumbled when hit by Kuechly. Davis pounced on the ball and rolled into the end zone for a 21-7 lead.
Three turnovers and poor punt coverage offset all the positives for the defending champions.
“When you turn it over and give up a special teams touchdown, you get in a big hole,” Harbaugh said. “We have to protect the ball better.”