Charlotte, NC – A quick turn-around is in store for the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants as each gets ready for battle in the NFL’s Thursday Night game in Charlotte.
Fresh off a 35-27 defeat of the defending NFC champion (New Orleans), the Panthers now get the defending Super Bowl champions in the nationally televised game (NFL Network) at Bank of America Stadium.
Everything was clicking Sunday when the Panthers beat the Saints. The zone read offense ran up a lot of points, yet the defense gave up more yards (486) to New Orleans. “The stats don’t show it defensively, but we came out and made some amazing plays,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “They were our spark.”
To come back with a very good game last week against New Orleans was huge for the Panthers. Coming off a disappointing loss at Tampa in the season opener, the Cats used their offense, defense and special teams to beat the Saints. “It was big,” said Rivera. “I think the nice thing and the good thing about it is we came back and played the way we are capable of both offensively and defensively.”
The biggest defensive plays were the bookend interceptions. Early in the first quarter, safety Charles Godfrey returned one for a touchdown that tied the game and slowed the Saints offensive momentum. The second interception came with less than a minute to play when linebacker Jon Beason intercepted a Drew Brees pass which sealed Carolina’s win.
If the Saints offensive juggernaut rolled up 486 yards, how will the Panthers defense slow down the New York passing attack that gained 510 yards against Tampa Bay last Sunday? A lot of the responsibility falls on the linebacking corps – Beason, rookie Luke Kuechly, James Anderson and Thomas Davis. Returning from injuries, Beason and Davis are a welcome addition back to the defense and Kuechly has stepped in nicely.
Overall, the Carolina defense has six new starters from last season when they finished 28th in yards allowed and 27th in points surrendered. The offense, however, returned nearly everyone, and rebounded nicely last Sunday, accumulating 463 yards against the Saints following a disappointing effort in Tampa the week before.
The biggest improvement came in the running game. Carolina gained just 10 yards in the opener, but rushed for 219 Sunday. Quarterback Cam Newton (71 yards) and running backs DeAngelo Williams (69 yards) and Jonathan Stewart (51 yards) came up big.
Newton also completed 14-of-20 attempts for 253 yards and a touchdown. He now has a 100.8 quarterback rating for the first two games of the season.
Big plays were the spark needed for the offense Sunday against new Orleans. Receiver Steve Smith’s 66-yard reception after the Saints closed to within one score in the fourth quarter was the play of that drive in which the Panthers scored their last touchdown. Smith had three receptions for 104 yards, marking the second straight week and 40th time in his career he has surpassed 100 yards in a game.
Third-year receiver, Brandon LaFell, is gaining in confidence. He had an outstanding training camp and during the season, is averaging 17.2 yards per catch. He caught six for 90 yards against the Saints. His 25-yard run on a reverse got the Panthers in position for their final touchdown drive of the first half.
Now come the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning. Both teams are playing on a short week, which always is challenging…for the players and coaches.
“It is a heck of a challenge,” says Rivera. “It is a short week and coming out with a win against New Orleans helps. We have to continue to work with the type of energy we showed last week. We have a tough opponent coming in with the Giants, the defending champs, and it will be a battle.”
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had high praise for Manning after his dismantling of Tampa on Sunday. “What he did yesterday I’ve seen time and time again…He’s as good as there is out there in the game today. I firmly believe that. And we’ve got to be prepared.”
This will be the eighth time the Panthers and Giants have met, with Carolina leading the all-time series, 4-3.
Rookie cornerback, Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) has supplanted fourth-year starter Captain Munnerlyn in the season’s biggest surprise, so far.
While he is not happy about losing his starting job, Munnerlyn said, “I’m good with it. But it’s a part of football. I know they need me on special teams.” Munnerlyn, a starter last year and for much of 2012, has been relegated to the nickel package and special teams as Norman grows stronger each week.
There are two questionable starters for the Panthers, as listed on the injury report Wednesday:
- Running back Jonathan Stewart (toe injury): Stewart did not practice all week, and looking back to the same scenario in Week 1 at Tampa Bay, Stewart did not play. Rivera stated that if this weren’t a short week, he would have a better chance of playing. “It’s one of those things where if we’re playing on Sunday, he’s got a much, much better chance than he does if we’re playing on Thursday. He came out and it was still a little stiff, a little bit sore.” Rivera said Stewart was listed with an ankle injury despite the fact that it’s his toe. “It’s more of a thing where the toe’s connected to the ankle,” Rivera said. He went on to explain that it’s not turf toe, however, “I’m not quite sure how to explain it. But it’s sore.”
- Right tackle Byron bell (ankle sprain): Rivera said if Bell does not start, Garry Williams, who has gotten the bulk of the first-team reps this week, would be the likely starter, but Bruce Campbell has also gotten work in practice this week.
The rest of the Panthers injury report shows backup guard/center Mike Pollak (shoulder) is out. Linebacker Thomas Davis (hamstring) and special teams player Colin Jones (shoulder) are questionable, although Rivera said Davis has a good chance of playing. Linebacker Jon Beason (elbow), C Ryan Kalil(ankle), WR Steve Smith (knee) and WR Kealoha Pilares (foot) are probable.
Steve Smith (knee) is listed as probable although Rivera said listing Smith on the injury report “is really more of a formality now than anything else.” Smith was limited in Tuesday’s practice, but fully participated on Wednesday.
On the other side of the ball, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw, right tackle David Diehl and wide receiver Domenik Hixon have been ruled out of Thursday night’s game.
LATE BREAKING INFORMATION: Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is also OUT for Thursday night’s game. (4:12 p.m. update, Wednesday)
This is one of those games where I predicted an upset for the Panthers when the schedule came out. I also thought they would be 2-0 at this time (yes, I missed on the Tampa game but correctly predicted the upset win over the Saints). I think this will be a very high scoring game. The over-under is 50.5 points, which is attainable. Each team’s offense is getting better as we go into Week 3. Stopping Eli Manning is a very formidable task, and the same goes for Cam Newton.
It seems like every game is a big one in the NFL…especially, so far, for the Panthers. After losing to Tampa in their opener, last Sunday’s game was a “must-win” due to the fact that they were playing the Saints, an NFC South division rival. Thursday night’s game, while big, does not have that “must-win” feel to me. The line opened favoring the Giants by 2.5 points and has now dropped to Carolina plus 1 and even a pick ‘em game at some books. Even though it is a home game for Carolina, I’m going with the Giants by a field goal in this one. But I hope I’m wrong.