REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS

Rookie corner Ricky Manning, starting in place of Terry Cousin, had a great game with an interception return for a touchdown and two picks. This kid could be a special player in this league. Expect to be the starter by next season.

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Jake Delhomme threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked a season-high six times. Still, the Panthers set a franchise record, allowing just 27 sacks this season. Muhsin Muhammad seems to be coming on well toward the end of the season with five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. Ricky Proehl had five catches for 66 yards and touchdown and he will need to emerge in the playoffs for the Panthers to be successful.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Panthers ran for 114 yards on 34 carries as Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster split the load. Davis played only the first half and ran for 57 yards on 11 carries. He looked good after missing last week's game with an ankle injury. Foster didn't run with as much zest, held to 43 yards on 17 carries.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Panthers intercepted Jesse Palmer four times and held him to 110 yards on 18 of 43 pass attempts. Rookie corner Ricky Manning, starting in place of Terry Cousin, had a great game with an interception return for a touchdown and two picks. This kid could be a special player in this league. Expect to be the starter by next season. Carolina also had two sacks and applied decent pressure most of the game.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- The Panthers held Tiki Barber to 40 yards on nine carries and the Giants to just 76 yards as a team. Carolina's defense is so much better when playing with a healthy middle linebacker Dan Morgan. Carolina should get defensive tackle Brentson Buckner back for next week's game and that should help even more.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Punt returner Steve Smith returned a punt 53 yards for a touchdown on Sunday, but the Panthers also allowed two blocked punts that led to Giant touchdowns. John Kasay converted all three field goal attempts for the Panthers. Carolina simply isn't getting as much out of their return game as they did earlier this season and Rod Smart is fumbling too much. The Panthers really have no choice but to re-sign Smith in the off-season, even though he's a pain in the neck.

COACHING: B-plus -- It was good to see offensive coordinator Dan Henning throwing the ball even when the Panthers had a comfortable lead in the first half. Defensively, the Panthers are playing better now they have all season. Carolina's special teams really let them down this week and coach Scott O'Brien will be working overtime this week to solve that problem. Overall, it was a decent game plan for the Panthers. The Panthers needed to win this game to clinch the No. 3 seed and they did. Yes, they should have blown out the Giants, but their mistakes (especially the punt block miscues) can and will be corrected this week.


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