Cam Newton may be on his way to becoming one of the NFL's great quarterbacks. Last season, he threw for 3,869 yards and 19 touchdowns while rushing for another 741 yards and eight touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, he led the Panthers to win in each of their last four games of 2012, two of which were against divisional opponents.
Newton's growth and the way that Carolina ended last season were both reasons for optimism coming into 2013. However, the last time the Giants saw the Panthers, it was Week 3 of last season and Carolina looked like anything but a playoff contender. New York won 36-7 in a game that was an embarrassment for Newton and his teammates.
"They had a strong pass rush and it kind of affected our offense very early," said Newton about the last time the Giants and Panthers played. "When we looked up, it was a large lead and we had to come from behind. I think this year we have to do a good job of executing early, staying on top of early downs, rather than being in the 3rd-and-longs."
3rd-and-long was not something that New York's last opponent, the Broncos, had to face very often. The Giants struggled to get pressure on quarterback Peyton Manning or hang onto the football on offense. The result was the Giants getting blown out in the second half.
While Newton is not Peyton Manning, he is still a quarterback who can hurt the Giants if they don't generate a solid pass rush. With the Panthers sitting even with the Giants at 0-2, both sides will be desperate for a win to give their playoffs hopes some legitimacy.
"We're right here on the brink and I feel as if just a little bit more focus, another play or two in the game that can go our way, we could easily be 2-0," said Newton, whose Panthers suffered close losses to the Seahawks and Bills in the first two weeks of the season. "For us, we're not going to push the panic button. We're just going to come out each and every day and each and every practice and focus on the things we can do."
The Giants will need to be equally focused on defense in order to avoid falling in an 0-3 hole.