But the defense also fell apart in the second half – turning a somewhat close 17-0 halftime deficit into an insurmountable Panthers’ lead.
Perry Fewell’s defense was focused all week on containing Cam Newton, just like the unit did last year in the Giants’ 36-7 Week 3 win in Carolina. Newton however had other plans this go-around, as he burned Big Blue’s defense with both his arm and his legs.
Newton’s stats – other than the three touchdown passes – would suggest that maybe the Giants kept him in check. But Newton used his different gifts on different drives, which helped the Panthers dominate.
The Giants’ first defensive stand was like the ultimate tease. The d-line broke through well, and Mathias Kiwanuka even recorded a huge third-down sack to force a punt. But other than that one three-and-out, it was mostly downhill for Big Blue’s defense.
It was Newton’s legs on Carolina’s first scoring drive that got the Panthers going. He rushed for 40 yards on four carries – many of which were designed runs right up the gut.
The Giants actually got a bit of pressure on Newton early, but he was able to escape up the middle of the pocket where the entire center of the field was wide open for big gains.
After adding a field goal to go up 10-0, the Panthers then relied on Newton’s arm on their second touchdown drive. Ted Ginn and Greg Olsen each made two big catches before Brandon LaFell caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Newton.
Even so, down 17-0 at halftime, the Giants were still very much in the game. Sure, the offense looked inept, but a few good drives could have changed the momentum. The defense really didn’t allow too many big plays, as Newton was instead methodically driving downfield.
However, the second half was all about big plays. The Giants’ defense did a good job of holding DeAngelo Williams to 23 yards rushing in the first half, but he rattled off big gain after big gain to open the second half. He wound up carrying the ball 23 times for 120 yards, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Newton later hit LaFell again in the endzone – this time for 20 yards – and then connected deep with Ginn for a 47-yard touchdown strike.
The Giants’ d-line was not expected to get too much pressure on the mobile Newton, but even so, Big Blue’s front four was manhandled by the Panthers’ offensive line. Newton had plenty of time to throw, and Carolina’s backs had plenty of running room for big gains.
Aaron Ross started in place of Corey Webster (hip), and he came up with a big interception of Newton early in the second quarter. But the Giants could not muster anything offensively, and the interception lit a fire under Newton.
After throwing the pick, Newton and the Panthers enjoyed five straight scoring possessions – a field goal and four touchdowns.
One somewhat positive from the defensive effort is that the Giants were able to hold Steve Smith in check. He finished with three catches for 40 yards, but limiting his production wound up being irrelevant, as Ginn, Olsen and LaFell all had big days receiving.
The Giants had allowed a league-leading 77 points through the first two weeks, and 38 more Sunday isn’t going to help them in that category.
So Big Blue is 0-3 for the first time since 1996. Before closing the door on this season, let’s all still recognize that there is plenty of football to play. The Cowboys are 2-1, but with the Eagles at 1-2 and the Redskins at 0-3, the NFC East is still wide open.
But rather than worrying about the results of the other teams, the Giants need to get their act together – both offensively and defensively – because Sunday’s game was downright embarrassing.
Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter @JMMancari.