The Giants' stadium-opening 31-18 win over the Panthers got them off to a great start, but it left no indelible impressions on whether this would be a good or bad team going forward.
All one can take from this one, really, is that a truer test will come next week in Indianapolis, against Peyton Manning – a quarterback who bears in no way, shape, or form, any resemblance to the Panthers' Matt Moore. One can be sure of something, though. Manning is not going to throw three picks in the end zone, and certainly won't throw two there in the fourth quarter.
Still, there were things to take encouragement from in this topsy-turvy game. The defense held a Panthers running game that gashed them for 247 yards in their Giants Stadium finale last season to 89 yards, with DeAngelo Williams gaining just 62 on 16 carries. And you had to love how Hakeem Nicks came back to catch three touchdown passes after getting an eminently catchable ball intercepted, the first of Eli Manning's three picks off tipped balls.
All in all, it's a win. It's a 1-0 record. But don't get too excited. The Giants strung five of these together at the beginning of last season, only to crash and burn in a big way. Not only will they now advance to a legitimate team in Indy, but they may do it without tight end Kevin Boss, who suffered a neck injury and a concussion on the Giants' fourth play from scrimmage. Look for Bear Pascoe to be signed from the practice squad real quick, since nobody wants to live with Travis Beckum as the lead tight end.
Backup tackle and sometime tight end Will Beatty left the locker room with a boot on his right foot. And special teams captain Chase Blackburn, just back from an MCL sprain, left in the third quarter with another knee sprain.
So here are some of the good points and bad points of the Giants' win.
Eli Manning: He could have buried his head in his hands after watching three catchable balls get intercepted, but in typical fashion he kept his head up and kept working. He was especially encouraging to Nicks after that first pick. "I just told him, don't worry about tips," Manning said. "You gotta make up, gotta start making some big-time plays. Just stay confident and keep fighting through it."
NICKS: He got open consistently and, on his second touchdown catch that put the Giants up 14-9 in the second quarter, he reminded some of Plaxico Burress with the fade route reception in front of CB Captain Munnerlyn. He and Mario Manningham got plenty of opportunities as the Panthers doubled Steve Smith. Manningham also came up with a couple of key catches in a four-catch, 85-yard performance. But it was Nicks who looked the most athletic.
TERRELL THOMAS: Yeah, he missed a bunch of tackles, but he also laid out a few people, too. And he made a key interception as he stepped in front of Steve Smith in the end zone when the Panthers still had a chance at 8:33 in the fourth quarter. You can put in there Kenny Phillips, too, who laid several hits and made the second end zone pick of the fourth quarter. Phillips started, as expected, but Deon Grant also got plenty of field time and contributed the first interception.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell used several fronts, including a four-DE and three-DT alignment, with only mixed results. But they did stop the Panthers running game, and once Carolina became one dimensional they showed some great pass rush ability. They dumped Moore four times, all in the second half, and knocked him out of the game entirely on Mathias Kiwanuka's sack and fumble with 3:50 left in the game. "That second half was truly fun," Justin Tuck said. "That's how I remember Big Blue defense." It should only last.
TURNOVERS: Let's face it, three interceptions and a fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw and you're not going to win many games like that. Good thing the defense bailed out the offense with its own three, timely interceptions, all in the end zone.
KICK COVERAGE: Can anybody figure this thing out? The Giants score a touchdown to go up 14-9 with 45 seconds to go in the half and then immediately give up a 45-yard return on the kickoff to set up the Panthers at midfield for a go-ahead touchdown 42 seconds later. That's not to mention the insane inconsistency of rookie punter Matt Dodge, who loused up both attempts, and was then victimized by poor protection when another was blocked out of the end zone for a safety. All told, Dodge had a 43-yard gross average, and a 16-yard net. Try that against Indianapolis and it'll be a rout.
THIRD DOWN: Or more specifically, third-and-long. Same problem as last year; the defense can't get off the field. The Panthers had a healthy 8-of-17 (47 percent) average on third down, and on a fourth-quarter drive that ended up with an interception, Moore got himself out of third-and-17, third-and-10, and third-and-6. This is the same problem the defense had last year, and it cost them big. The turnovers won't always come, so this unit has to learn how to get off the field.
Ramses Barden: Starting to get really down on this kid, and it's only the first game. He let the only pass thrown to him go off his hands for an interception. He's got a lot of confidence-building to do, but who knows if he'll get that chance.