Promising start dulled by mistake-prone finish to first half (Ravens lose 34-27)

It’s always good to think positively. Find the silver linings. Look for the encouraging signs so the discouraging ones don’t feel so bad.

For Ravens fans, you have the first-team defense. It has looked exceptional tonight, allowing just three points on Graham Gano’s 54-yard field goal with 37 seconds to go in the second quarter.

The unit has surrendered just five first downs and 67 yards.

But the reason has something to do with the fact that it has barely touched the field so far.

Baltimore trails the Carolina Panthers 24-7 at halftime because of a seemingly endless stream of mistakes following a fantastic first offensive possession.

Joe Flacco started 5-for-5, but has since completed just eight of his 14 attempts for 68 yards and two interceptions. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown and a third was nullified by an unnecessary roughness penalty.

Too soon to be concerned? Flacco has now passed for just one touchdown while being intercepted four times in the preseason. Not good. (To be fair, Tandon Doss was to blame for not running the right route on the pick-six.)

Silver lining? The running game is showing progress. Ray Rice ran for 43 yards and a touchdown in the first half after gaining just 17 through the first two preseason games.

But Bernard Pierce committed a critical mistake, fumbling inside the 10, where the Panthers recovered and scored the third of three returns for touchdowns in the half. The first was a punt returns by Ted Ginn Jr.

So. Remember, the defense has looked good so far. That first drive by the offense was a thing of beauty. Now the Ravens have to find a way to replicate it.

Update: The Ravens opened the second half with an eight-play, 48-yard drive that ended with a 32-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

That cuts Carolina’s lead to 24-10.

Rice ran for 19 yards on the drive and Flacco completed both of his attempts for 34 yards.

Update II: Another good drive for the Ravens has them within a touchdown at 24-17 with 7:39 remaining in the third quarter.

Flacco led a six-play, 66-yard drive that lasted just 2:49 and ended with a beautiful 24-yard touchdown catch by Marlon Brown. Flacco passed to an area with two Carolina defensive backs in range, Brown tracked it, went and got it, and dipped into the end zone. The rookie wideout has four catches for 59 yards and a score tonight.

On that drive, Flacco completed all three of his attempts for 47 yards. Not too shabby.

All of a sudden, the mistakes disappear and it’s a game again.

Update III: A few quick quotes to pass along on the first half.

Coach John Harbaugh: “We did things well in the first half and we were down 24-7. When you turn it over and give up a special teams touchdown, you get in a big hole. We have to protect the ball better. We know we can do that, but we didn’t.”

Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell: “We opened the game the way we want to play and know how we can play. We were crisp, we were fast and we were in rhythm. The turnovers got us, and you have to rebound from those.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees: “We played stead and played well, except for a few pass rush situations in the first half. When you play a quarterback like that, you have to keep him inside with pressure right at him.”

Update IV: Gano’s 42-yard field goal increases Carolina’s lead to 27-17 with 2:30 to go in the third quarter.

Ravens defense has allowed just six points tonight.

Update V: Maybe it’s just that kind of night for any offensive players wearing purple.

Tyrod Taylor took over at quarterback for Flacco, and ended his first drive with a pick-six. Cornerback D.J. Moore took this one 33 yards to the end zone, giving the Panthers a ridiculous four returns for touchdowns (two interceptions, one fumble, one punt) and a 34-17 lead.

Flacco ended his night 18-for-24 for 169 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times.

Through three quarters, the Ravens have outgained the Panthers 290-104... and have half as many points.

Update VI: Taylor and the Ravens responded well to the latest pick-six, putting together a 10-play, 78-yard drive that ended with Damien Berry’s 10-yard touchdown run.

That trims the margin to 34-24 with 11:29 to go.

Update VII: The Ravens are back to within seven points after Bobby Rainey’s 59-yard punt return set up a 36-yard field goal by Tucker.

It’s 34-27 Carolina with 7:10 to go.

Update VIII: That’s a wrap. Burned by turnovers and the returns that followed, the Ravens fall 34-27 to Carolina for their first preseason loss.

Despite all the major miscues, this one included some of the biggest positives we’ve seen so far. More to come.