The Carolina Panthers had already spoiled a couple of New York Giant parties in the Giants’ old home, and for one half, they were poised to likewise ruin the first regular season game ever played in the Giants’ new digs.
That’s when the Giants (1-0) decided enough was enough, before exacting some revenge on the Panthers (0-1) with a 17-2 second half, rallying for a 31-18 victory before 77,245 fans at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday.
It was the Panthers, who in 2006, handed the Giants the first shutout home loss for an NFL playoff team in 26 years. And, it was the same Panthers who embarrassed the Giants by 32 points in the Giants’ last game ever played in the now defunct Giants Stadium, with an NFC playoff berth on the line for the Giants.
Although it took a half for them to play like, the Giants finally came out in the second half of Sunday’s contest and played like a team seeking retribution.
Until then, the Giants and Panthers traded leads four times before halftime.
Panthers’ kicker John Kasay recorded the first ever regular season points in the new stadium on a 21-yard field goal with 3:42 left in the opening quarter, to give Carolina a 3-0 lead.
But, the Giants answered on the next possession, going 63 yards on seven plays in 3:36, with quarterback Eli Manning first hitting wide receiver Mario Manningham (4 catches for a game-high 85 yards) up the right sideline for 31 yards on a 3rd-and-16 play, before finding second-year receiver and first-round draft pick Hakeem Nicks on a 26-yard touchdown pass up the left sideline, for the first NFL touchdown that counted in the new building.
The score put the Giants up 7-3, with two seconds left in the first quarter and it was the first of three scoring connections on the day between Manning (20-30, 263 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT) and Nicks (4 receptions, 75 yards, 3 TD).
With the Giants’ next two drives stalling, once because of Manning’s second interception, the Panthers were able to get two more Kasay field goals, one from 52 yards 3:18 into the second quarter, and another from 43 yards, to put Carolina ahead 9-7, with 1:46 left in the first half.
Manning though, who spread the ball around to seven different receivers, quickly drove the Giants back, moving New York 84 yards on seven plays in just 1:41, completing a 25-yard pass to Nicks before tossing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Nicks, giving the Giants a 14-9 lead with 45 seconds left in the first half.
However, Carolina then gave Giants’ fans an eerie reminder of last season, with some bad kickoff coverage and the same type of porous defense seen under fired defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan last season.
Second-year kick returner Matt Goodson brought the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to midfield, and even with new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell making his Giants’ debut, Panthers’ quarterback Matt Moore (14-33, 182 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) carved the Giants’ defense up, completing four of five passes in 30 seconds, finishing the short 50-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Steve Smith, regaining the lead for Carolina, 16-14, three seconds before halftime.
The Giants, though, took control of the game in the second half, shutting out the Carolina offense which ended six second-half drives with four turnovers and two punts. The Giants battered Moore, sacking him four times for a total of loss of 34 yards. Half of those sacks and half of that lost yardage came from defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. Carolina, which had 165 total yards by halftime, managed a mere 72 total yards in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Giants scored the next 17 points, scoring on their first three possessions of the second half.
New York, which ran the ball 13 times in the first half, was outgained 83-8 on the ground in the opening two quarters, but they turned the tables is the second half, outrushing the Panthers 110-6 in the second half, as the Giants won the time of possession battle 34:41 to 25:19.
Half of running back Brandon Jacobs’ 44 yards (on 12 carries) came on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter, as the Giants took the opening kickoff of the second half and methodically drove down the field, 60 yards on 11 plays, in 5:53, grabbing the lead for good, 17-16, on a Lawrence Tynes field goal, 5:57 into the third quarter.
Big Blue went up 24-16 on its next possession, as Manning threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Nicks to cap a five-play, 38-yard drive after a Carolina fumble.
After the Giants’ defense forced a three-and-out, running back Ahmad Bradshaw got into the second half ground attack act, getting more than half of his 76 yards (on 20 rushes) on a nice 39-yard jaunt to set up his own four-yard touchdown run three plays later, giving New York a commanding 31-16 lead with 11:36 left in the game.
Only a blocked punt off of the foot of Giants’ rookie punter Matt Dodge (2 punts, 43.0 average, 1 block) which rolled out of the end zone for a Carolina safety with 3:57 remaining kept the Giants from winning their inaugural regular season New Meadowlands Stadium game by the same score they won their first ever game in the new stadium, when they beat the New York Jets, 31-16, in an August preseason game.
Although the Giants were of course happy to start the 2010 season and open their new home with a victory and gain a measure of retribution on the Panthers, the win came at a price.
Starting tight end Kevin Boss, who caught one pass for eleven yards, left in the first quarter with a neck injury; linebacker Chase Blackburn didn’t return after suffering a knee injury; and, offensive tackle William Beatty left the game with a boot on his foot.
The Giants also had their fare share of miscues in a game played in a light rain in the second half. The Giants committed nine of the game’s 16 penalties and four of the contest’s ten turnovers.
Despite the win being a sloppy, it pleased head coach Tom Coughlin, who honored the Fire Department of New York by wearing an FDNY cap on the sidelines one day after the ninth anniversary of the horrific 9/11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.
While Coughlin focused on areas that the Giants need to work on, particularly with avoiding mistakes, improving some poor special teams play, and running the ball better from the outset of the game, the happy coach focused on the positives, saying, “It’s [an] historic first win for the New York Giants’ franchise here in the brand new stadium… I thought that it [was] an outstanding win for our team. I’m very happy about the win. The players are very happy about the win.”
Coughlin also acknowledged that last season’s humiliating loss against the Panthers also played a role. “There was a lot said going in about this game and about what happened last year and I’m just happy that we could win this game, the first game in this stadium,” he said.
Next up, will be a prime-time showdown pitting the Manning brothers against each other as Eli leads the Giants into Indianapolis (0-1, after a 34-24 loss in Houston on Sunday) against brother Peyton and the defending AFC champion Colts on Sunday Night Football, next Sunday at 8:20pm EST.