Since the start of training camp a month ago, quarterback Joe Flacco has watched as his top two tight ends went down and prominent young wide-outs failed to step up. He saw the Ravens bring in veteran pass-catchers Brandon Stokley, Dallas Clark and Visanthe Shiancoe. And he has recently gotten a look at rookies Aaron Mellette and Marlon Brown running with the first-team offense.
The Ravens are still looking to find the right combination at those positions and Flacco is still trying to get a read on the Ravens' motley crew of new receivers. That was obvious during Thursday's 34-27 preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers as Flacco threw a pair of interceptions.
"We've just got to execute better. We moved the ball well. We just shot ourselves in the foot, committed turnovers and had drive-killers," Stokley said of the offense's performance. "We've got to get back to practice, work on those types of things and get them corrected."
Clark, the veteran tight end, had no catches on two targets and Mellette, a rookie wide receiver, had two catches for 9 yards. Fellow wide-out Tandon Doss, who is in his third season but is looking for an expanded role, had just one catch for 5 yards and a miscommunication with Flacco on one third-down play led to an interception returned for a touchdown by the Panthers.
But Flacco did have chemistry with Brown and Stokley, who combined to catch seven of his 24 passes.
Early in the game, the Ravens used Torrey Smith (Maryland), Jacoby Jones and Stokley in their three-receiver sets. But they took a seat on the bench in the second quarter as the Ravens gave other players an opportunity to develop a rapport with Flacco. All in all, before leaving the game midway through the third quarter, Flacco played with seven different wide receivers and a pair of tight ends.
Flacco and the first-team offense got off to a good start against the Panthers, going 69 yards on nine plays to score a touchdown on their first drive. Flacco completed all five of his passes for 45 yards on the drive, but things quickly went awry for the passing game after that.
On their second drive, Flacco overshot Clark on third-and-10 and the Ravens were forced to punt.
On the following drive, Clark had a drop on third down, but it happened well short of the sticks and was washed out by an illegal-contact penalty by Panthers cornerback Josh Thomas down the field. Later in the drive, Flacco found Mellette on third down, but he went nowhere.
Flacco found Stokley up the seam for a 27-yard reception on third-and-13 on their next drive to move the Ravens into Panthers territory. But three plays later, Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence got an easy interception after Doss appeared to run the wrong route. Flacco had an animated conversation with Doss on the sideline after Florence scored on the return.
Late in the first half, Flacco was intercepted for a second time, by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly after he appeared to lock onto Shiancoe inside the red zone.
"It was just a lot of miscommunication," Flacco said of the miscues.
Flacco left the game on a high note after a third-quarter touchdown pass to Brown. The rookie free agent out of Georgia lined up in the right slot and ran a post toward the left hash marks, where he caught a pass between a pair of Panthers. Brown ran into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown.
Flacco completed 18 of his 24 attempts for 169 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was also sacked three times.
Brown, who along with Mellette just started getting snaps with the first-team offense in practice last weekend, caught all four passes Flacco threw his way for 59 yards and one score. Each of his catches went for a first down or a touchdown.
Stokley, who had three catches for 43 yards, also helped the Ravens move the chains with two first-down catches on third down, including one that helped kick start the team's first touchdown drive.
Flacco was clearly on the same page as those two. But at this point, with the regular season just two weeks away, Flacco might not even be in the same book as some of his other receivers.