Fitting that on the day the special teams starters were introduced to the crowd, a new tradition Ron Rivera and the Panthers began in an attempt to recognize the players that do the dirty job in a third of the game, it was a 63-yard Graham Gano field goal with one second on the clock – his 35th consecutive make at Bank of America Stadium and the longest of his career – that gave the team the win.
Special teams appreciation week, indeed.
An early big play in the third phase that threatened to blow open the Panthers/Giants game early in the second quarter – a wild play that began with a coffin corner punt that bounced off returner Odell Beckham, Jr. and was finished with special teams captain Colin Jones pouncing on a loose football in the end zone for a score to put the Panthers up 14-3 en route to a 33-31 win over the New York Giants.
It wasn’t the only wild play of the afternoon in Charlotte.
The Panthers first big play of the afternoon featured the following: Ian Thomas and Curtis Samuel running in opposite directions in front of Cam Newton, a zone-read handoff to Christian McCaffrey; a pitch to DJ Moore; a pinball-esque bounce off a would-be tackle from Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins and an 18-yard reverse that would lead to the Panthers first score of the day – but all anyone wanted to talk about after the game was that Cam Newton block.
Newton flattened 6-6, 265-pound defensive end Kareem Martin to spring Moore for the first down and the electric rookie did the rest to put the Panthers into Giants territory for the first time – three plays later, Curtis Samuel took a well-designed screen pass 25 yards for his first career touchdown as he careened off at least five Giants defenders who had an opportunity to tackle him, shrugging off three near the goalline and diving for the end zone – when the Panthers talked about giving Cam Newton more weapons, this was exactly what they meant; the Panthers had five plays on that touchdown drive – each of which had a different weapon touching the ball.
The Panthers had nine players touch the ball on offense in the first half.
The trickery @idjmoore!
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 7, 2018
The Panthers knew coming in that they would need to contain the Giants two stars on offense, and while they did for the most part in the first quarter – Saquon Barkley had -4 yards on five rushes – it took a combination of the two to vault the Giants back into the game after the Panthers jumped out to their early 17-3 lead.
While the Giants had trouble establishing sustained drives in the first half – they were 0-for-6 on third and fourth downs in the first half; their lone touchdown of the first half utilized some trickeration to get to the end zone as Beckham took a wide receiver screen and fired it twenty yards downfield to a wide-open Barkley, who had leaked out to the far side – it appeared rookie linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. was fooled by the screen pass and broke across the field, leaving the right side wide open and Barkley cruised to the end zone to make it 17-10.
Barkley would finish with four catches for 81 yards, and Beckham, who was matched up with James Bradberry for much of the day, had eight for 131.
An Aldrick Rosas 53-yard field goal – his career long – would make it 20-13 heading into halftime.
As the teams battled back and forth during a frustrating third quarter for both sides – both Manning, who finished with 326 yards and two scores, and Newton, who started 8-for-9 in the first half and finished 19-for-29 for 208 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns, both threw a pick in the red zone – Newton was particularly egregious in the third quarter, going only 2-for-8 for only 25 yards and the interception. But it was sloppy play by the Giants – and a dubious unnecessary roughness call by the referees – that helped the Panthers salt the game away in the fourth quarter.
The penalty on Giants’ safety Landon Collins as he, along with two other Giants, hit Devin Funchess on a third-down incompletion, extended a drive that ended in Christian McCaffrey’s first touchdown of the season – despite racking up the fourth-most rushing yards in Panthers history last week, the second-year back hadn’t found the end zone in 2018 – on a swing pass that the running back caught at the line of scrimmage and cruised almost untouched into the end zone.
Another Newton interception would allow the Giants to pick up a quick score as Eli Manning threw a picture-perfect deep ball to Beckham for the wideout’s first touchdown in 364 days to pull the Giants back to 27-24 before the Panthers would put together a 12 play drive that ate up almost six minutes of clock and featured a fourth-and-one conversion in which Newton rolled out and hit Jarius Wright for 27 yards – a Graham Gano field goal would extend the Panthers lead to 30-24.
The Giants would strike back to make it 31-30; a 40-yard pass to Russell Shepard was quickly followed by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Saquon Barkley. The Giants needed only 1:08 to take a 31-30 lead before Newton would lead the team 30 yards downfield for Gano’s winning field goal.
- With Jared Norris a late scratch after suffering a toe injury during Friday’s practice, rookie linebacker Andre Smith got a a jersey for the first time in his NFL career. Smith was selected in the seventh-round of the 2018 Draft. The Panthers also had CB Josh Hawkins active while 2017 fifth-round pick Corn Elder, who was thought to be the top backup at corner and played 20 snaps in Week 2 against Atlanta, was inactive.
- Newly signed safety Eric Reid kneeled during the national anthem, continuing his protests against police brutality and social inequality in the United States.
- Devin Funchess was evaluated for a concussion and cleared to return in the second half; Funchess also cramped up near the end of the game.
- Mike Adams had interceptions on back-to-back passes from Eli Manning; his 45 career takeaways are the most among active NFL players.
- Ryan Kalil was injured with just under four minutes left in the game – he was able to walk off under his own power after laying on the ground; the center who missed more than half of the season with a neck injury last season went in to the blue medical tent on the sidelines and did not return.
- DJ Moore, who had only four touches in the first three games of the season, had five for 67 today.