After suffering two heartbreaking losses to begin the season, the Carolina Panthers (1-2) bounced back by blanking the New York Giants (0-3) 38-0 at Bank of America on Sunday.
The 38-point shellacking was not only the most lopsided win in Panthers history, but also the Giants' worst defeat under head coach Tom Coughlin.
The convincing win also allows Carolina head coach Ron Rivera – whose seat was sizzling after the team blew consecutive fourth-quarter leads against Seattle and Buffalo – to retain his job for the time being.
While the Panthers turned in fantastic performances on both sides of the ball, the defense – with a makeshift secondary no less – was able to slow down Eli Manning and the Giants attack to almost a complete halt.
Despite rushing just four defenders for most of the game, the Panthers were still able to tie a franchise record with seven sacks – including six in the first half – and hold the opposition to just 150 yards of total offense.
Defensive end Greg Hardy led the way with eight total tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. Thomas Davis, Kawann Short, Charles Johnson and Star Lotulelei also recorded a sack each.
With five defensive backs out with injuries – including three starters – defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was forced to give safety Robert Lester and cornerback Melvin White – a pair of undrafted rookies – their first-career starts.
Lester and White responded to the challenge by recording an interception each and preventing the always-explosive tandem of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks from making any big plays downfield.
The Giants' run game was just as anemic as the aerial attack.
Coughlin's team gained just 60 yards on the ground, more than half of which came on two runs. The speedy David Wilson managed just 39 yards on 11 carries behind an offensive line that was supremely overmatched by the Carolina front four.
After struggling mightily through the first two games of the 2013 season, Cam Newton and the Panthers offense finally found their groove by re-establishing the run game.
DeAngelo Williams found plenty of room to operate, gaining 120 yards on 23 carries. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula also called more designed runs for Newton, who ran seven times for 45 yards and a score.
Newton, who completed 15-of-27 passes for 227 yards, added three more touchdowns through the air.
Even more encouraging for the Panthers, the third-year quarterback found other receivers besides Steve Smith and Greg Olsen.
Newton continued to develop a rapport with Ted Ginn Jr., who caught three balls for 71 yards, including a 47-yard score in the fourth quarter.
Brandon LaFell also emerged as a legitimate number two receiver, finding paydirt twice in the second and third quarters.
There is no doubt that this resounding victory gives Carolina some momentum heading into the bye week.
But can they sustain it?
The Panthers seem to play best when their head coach is on the cusp of being fired. After last year's 2-8 start clouded Rivera's future in Charlotte, the team won five of six games down the stretch to save his job.
With the reins now loosened slightly on the coaching staff, Carolina fans hope the team can continue the spirited play into October and beyond.
Maybe Rivera's job should be on the line every week.
At any rate, the bye week hasn't exactly served the team well over the last two seasons.
During the John Fox regime, the Panthers were 6-3 in games directly following the bye.
Under Rivera, the Panthers are 0-2 coming off the bye, including a 27-point drubbing to the Titans in 2011.
They hope to change that disturbing trend when they travel to University of Phoenix Stadium to take on the new-look Arizona Cardinals in two weeks.
Kickoff is slated for 4:05 p.m on Sunday, October 6th.
- The 38-0 victory was revenge for the Panthers, who lost to the Giants 36-7 in Week 3 last season.
- Former Giant Chase Blackburn started in place of Jon Beason at weak-side linebacker. Wide receiver Domenik Hixon, another ex-Giant, caught one pass for eight yards against his former team.
- Mike Tolbert scored the game's opening touchdown by pounding it into the end zone on fourth and one from the two-yard line.
- Steve Smith briefly left the game after having the wind knocked out of him in the second quarter. He finished with three catches for 40 yards.
- Thanks to Will Beatty and Josh Brown, the Panthers were able to keep their shutout intact. After a Beatty holding penalty nullified a 17-yard David Wilson touchdown run in the second quarter, Brown pushed a 38-yard field goal wide left to keep the Giants off the scoreboard.
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