Panthers vs Giants - Mid-week reports

The latest news and notes on the Panthers and Giants as they head into their Wild Card Match-up this weekend.

--QB Jake Delhomme played one of his better games of the season on Sunday against Atlanta, but more people wanted to tease him about ripping open the seat of his pants during a first quarter drive. The Panthers had to call timeout so trainers could repair a softball-size hole in the back of Delhomme's pants. He later changed into a new pair of pants and led Carolina to a 44-11 win.

--QB Chris Weinke saw some mop-up action on Sunday in a 44-11 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but remains the team's No. 2 quarterback. --RB DeShaun Foster could have broken the Panthers' single-game rushing record against Atlanta, but was taken out of the game early in the third quarter with 165 yards rushing because the Panthers led the game by 24 points and they didn't want to risk an injury to their featured back. Foster had a great game, but you had a feeling most backs would have run well against a lackluster Falcons defense. Now the big question is can Foster put up big numbers against someone other than the Falcons?

--RB Nick Goings had one carry for 17 yards against Atlanta and didn't see much action because he'd sprained his foot earlier in the week. He will likely be held out of practice most of this week.

--FB Brad Hoover injured his leg on the very first play against Atlanta but returned later in the game.

--WR Steve Smith should be in for a big game against the Giants, especially if this one becomes a shootout. The Giants have only scored fewer than 20 points at the Meadowlands once this season, so the Panthers may have to put up some big-time points to win this game.

--WR Keary Colbert continues to be lost in a horrendous sophomore slump.

--WR Ricky Proehl seems to step up when big games arrive. Proehl caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme on Sunday to put the Panthers up 7-0 and get them started on the right foot in a 44-11 win over Atlanta.

--WR Drew Carter continues to emerge as a much-needed deep threat for the Panthers and should see more action as the postseason arrives. Carter is much more effective than Keary Colbert, who adds little to the offense.

--TE Michael Gaines could see more balls thrown his way - not that that will be a whole lot anyway since the Panthers rarely throw to their tight ends - now that his ankle is feeling a little better.

--TE Kris Mangum is thrown to primarily on third downs.

--PK John Kasay seems to be kicking better the last two games, but we'll have to wait and see how he does in the cold New Jersey weather on Sunday.

--P Jason Baker leads the NFC in net punting average and has punted well down the stretch.

--PR Steve Smith will return punts against New York this week. Smith returned a punt for a touchdown against the Giants in 2003, setting the tone for a Panthers rout.

--KR Rod Smart was active against Atlanta and actually got a few carries in a 44-11 rout. Smart got a jersey only because linebacker Dan Morgan was hurt.

--KR Jamal Robertson has been the Panthers' kick returner the last few weeks and got 10 carries against the Falcons along with his first touchdown. Robertson is the team's No. 3 back behind DeShaun Foster and Nick Goings.

--DE Julius Peppers had a huge game against Dallas with three sacks and a blocked field goal. However, he was also involved in the controversial running into the kicker penalty that cost the Panthers at the end of the game. However, Peppers and the rest of the defense allowed Dallas to run for 214 yards.

--DE Mike Rucker will have to come up huge for the Panthers in the playoffs for them to have a chance to win. Rucker should get a good push on Sunday against a vulnerable Giants defense.

--DE Al Wallace had a huge game for Carolina on Sunday with two sacks and big stop on a fourth-down run.

--DT Kindal Moorehead had two sacks in a backup role for Carolina this past Sunday against Atlanta.

--DT Jordan Carstens played much better against the Falcons after a rough outing the week before against Dallas.

--LB Dan Morgan sat out the Atlanta game with an injured shoulder. No word yet on his status for this week.

--MLB Chris Draft is seeing plenty of action in the second half of the season due to the shoulder injury to Dan Morgan. Draft played extremely well against the Falcons last week with a forced fumble on defense and a fumble recovery on special teams.

--OLB Brandon Short has been consistent for the Panthers this season, but hasn't made a lot of big plays.

--CB Ken Lucas continues to play well for the Panthers and will be counted on to shut down Plaxico Burress this week.

--CB Chris Gamble will need some tighter coverage on Sunday if the Panthers are to escape New York with a win.

--CB Ricky Manning and the rest of Carolina's third down defense struggled some against the Falcons.

--FS Mike Minter continues to be the emotional leader on defense, but he drops a lot of interception possibilities because he has poor hands.

* * *

Giants coach Tom Coughlin has been here before.

In the NFL playoffs, that is.

He made his first appearance in 1990, when he was an assistant under Bill Parcells, and that Giants team went on to win Super Bowl XXV.

He was in the playoffs twice as coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, twice earning a spot in the AFC Championship Game (and twice losing it). But it is the experience that counts as his Giants prepare for their first-round playoff game against Carolina.

Coughlin notes there is a definite difference during the playoffs in team attitude and intensity level, and he thinks it must be experienced before a player can truly understand the impact the playoffs have on a team.

"You need more from your playmakers," he said. "You need them to lift the team, to show the younger guys how to do it. And you must avoid penalties. You cannot shoot yourself in the foot; you cannot make those kinds of mistakes."

As to the opposition, Coughlin spoke only in superlatives.

"Carolina is a very physical team," he said. "Your mistakes are magnified against a team like that. You have to eliminate them. Carolina comes in with a plus-16 (turnover margin) and we are a plus-12. So both teams have an emphasis on takeaways and not giving the ball away. You can't be penalized. All of these things, and others, are magnified as you go into the playoffs."

Being at home, Coughlin admits, is a positive. "But you have to play smart and physical," he said, "or it doesn't much matter if the other team can take advantage of your mistakes."

--TE Jeremy Shockey (ankle) missed the final regular-season game against Oakland, the first one he's missed this season, but all indications are he will be ready for the playoff game against Carolina. "I think I could have played, but it was better that I didn't," he said. Coach Tom Coughlin, somewhat more cautious, said only, "Jeremy is improving daily. The outlook is positive to get him on the practice field, if not Wednesday then Thursday."

--DT Fred Robbins (hamstring) and DE Eric Moore (hamstring) are "still struggling," according to coach Tom Coughlin, who put them in the day-to-day category.

--QB Eli Manning, who is still struggling but now has completed his first full season as a starter, finished with 3,762 yards and 24 touchdowns, completing 294 of 557 passes. He finished 10 attempts short of the team record and is now fifth in passing yards per season. "I feel I am playing more consistently now than earlier in the season," he said. "I still make some poor decisions but I feel like I'm managing the game better, seeing things well."

--RB Tiki Barber came within 20 yards of the NFL rushing title, finishing with 1,860 yards (Seattle's Shaun Alexander had 1,860). "I think this team has a lot more talent than previous playoff teams," he said. "I know the quarterback (Manning) is a lot younger than the one we had in 2000 (Kerry Collins), "But he is very confident, he doesn't get flustered, so we know he's going to bring the same leadership he brought all season."

--WR Amani Toomer, the nine-year veteran who was generally discounted this season, had a banner year as the "other wide receiver" to Plaxico Burress. "I had a good season and I had fun playing," he said. He finished with 60 receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns.

--WLB Nick Greisen praised all the backup linebackers who have been juggled into the lineup throughout the season. "I think it's great," he said. "I told the guys that we can't be the weak link, that I know there are new guys and new faces, but we have all played football before." It is likely that Greisen will stay at WLB even if starting MLB Antonio Pierce (high ankle sprain) doesn't return, because freshly signed Kevin Lewis, the Giants' starter at MLB for all 16 games last season, was re-signed and played well against Oakland.

--DE Michael Strahan was poked in the eye by Oakland T Chad Slaughter, and Strahan was screaming and cursing at him as he was being led off the field, his eye bloodied. "That's a hell of a way to block," he said later. But the next day he said that when he came back to the field, Slaughter "tried to say he was sorry." Did Strahan accept the apology? "I'm not sure, I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen it. But everybody who did see it told me that it looked like he spread his fingers and took a straight poke at it (the eye)."

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