Brayton, who has taken over as the elder statesman of the defensive line with Peppers having left for Chicago, certainly played like a man in charge. Brayton killed Baltimore’s first two drives with third-down sacks, one coming in the red zone forcing a Ravens field goal.
However, he sprained his ankle on the second sack midway through the first quarter and did not return.
"I guess I am the older one," laughed the 31-year-old Brayton. "Last year I was one of the youngest. But I don't feel any different."
Carolina also got great production from their two rookies -- Hardy and Eric Norwood.
In the first half, Norwood sacked Marc Bulger and forced a fumble and teammate Brian Witherspoon recovered in Baltimore territory. Brayton added another sack in the fourth quarter.
Hardy had sacks on back-to-back plays in the third quarter and also had two tackles for losses on run plays, capping an outstanding debut for the sixth-round draft pick out of Ole Miss.
The Panthers are expecting big things from both rookies and they’ve shined at different times in practice -- Norwood primarily in OTAs and Hardy down at training camp.
"It was great to see some of the young guys go out and make plays," Brayton said. "They have been working really hard in camp. You knew it was going to happen just seeing what they can do in practice, so I'm really happy."
Nick Hayden also had a sack.
CLAUSEN FIRST IN: Jimmy Clausen replaced starter Matt Moore early in the second quarter – ahead of Hunter Cantwell -- and led the Panthers to their only points of the first half, a 37-yard field goal by John Kasay. He also had the Panthers on the brink of a game-tying touchdown near the end of the first half, but running back Tyrell Sutton fumbled on the goal line.
He finished 8 of 15 for 80 yards and had only mistake – an interception on the right sidelines when wide receiver Dexter Jackson fell down. Overall, it wasn’t a bad effort for Clausen, especially considered he played in a constant downpour the second half and the ball was extremely slippery.
The same can’t be said for his offensive line, which struggled with penalties and poor pass protection. Carolina allowed three sacks in the first half, including one that resulted in a Moore fumble and 17-yard loss.
"It's a different experience," Clausen said of his debut. "It's a different vibe, a different atmosphere. But at the same time once you get out there it's still football. Obviously the speed of the game different, the guys are bigger, faster and they disguise coverages. Overall, once you get into it and start studying more, I think it's just football."
Hunter Cantwell attempted 17 passes, completing just six for 68 yards. He was sacked three times.
Tony Pike played only series.
Fox actually replaced Pike with Cantwell for the final series because he said Cantwell has more experience running the hurry-up offense. Pike missed most of the OTAs in June and is still trying to catch up and digest the offense.
GROSS RETURNS: It’s been awhile since left tackle Jordan Gross has seen live action and it showed.
Carolina’s most experienced (and highest-paid) offensive lineman had a rough night in his first game since breaking his leg last November against the Atlanta Falcons. He was flagged for two holding penalties and a false start costing the Panthers valuable field position.
Gross wasn’t alone as Duke Robinson also struggled at right guard and didn't do himself any favors into terms of winning a starting job.
Robinson, who saw some action with the first team at right guard, tackled a defensive player who was about to maul Moore. He later gave up a sack. Not a good showing for the guy who showed up to camp out of shape and overweight.
He's a very good run blocker, but Thursday night proved he needs some help in pass protection.
A LOOK AT WIDEOUT: In a mild surprise, rookie Brandon LaFell and Wallace Wright got the starting at wide receiver ahead of Dwayne Jarrett and Kenny Moore. That could be a good sign the Panthers view LaFell as their No. 2 receiver when Steve Smith returns in the regular season.
LaFell and Wright began working more with the first team more last week in practice.
Nobody stood out in the battle for the No. 2 wide receiver spot, but Moore did have a nice catch for a 25-yard gain when he caught the ball after tipping it in the air to himself.
LINEBACKERS GET LOOK: The Panthers got an extended look at new starting linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson.
While the rest of the team’s first-team defense was out early in the second quarter, they stayed in and played the entire first half. Connor tipped a pass and Anderson was active, but Carolina’s defense was hurt by a lot of dump off passes to the running backs, which is primarily the linebackers’ responsibility.
ON THE RETURN: The Panthers opened up with Brian Witherspoon returning kickoffs and Armanti Edwards on punt returns.
Edwards’s first return was solid, good for 18 yards.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: The Panthers opened with Louis Leonard and Ed Johnson working at defensive tackle. Johnson got penetration on a couple of plays and appears quicker than billed.
DeANGELO’S BACK: DeAngelo Williams picked up where he left off last year as a Pro Bowl selection, rushing five times for 33 yards, a 6.6-yard average. Williams showed good speed busting a run to the outside for a 23-yard gain on Carolina’s first possession.
Overall, the Panthers had 104 yards on 15 carries in the first half.
"If felt good," Williams said. "It's been a while since I've been out there since I ended the season with a high ankle sprain."
KASAY’S KICKS: John Kasay converted field goals of 37 and 45 yards, but clanked an extra point off the right upright in a steady downpour.