The Carolina Panthers came into Thursday hoping not to give up 510 yards to Eli Manning like Tampa Bay did on Sunday.
Carolina’s defensive front four would seemingly have an easier time handling the New York Giants, who were missing their starting running back, offensive tackle and star wide receiver to injuries on Thursday night.
But the line failed to get pressure on the Giants quarterback and allowed the two-time Super Bowl MVP to pick apart the Panthers for 288 passing yards in the 36-7 win.
“We lost focus,” Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said. “It got away from us and we didn’t punch them back. They came out and did what we expected them to do. They played a high level of football and we couldn’t come back. We had no counter.
“The defense came out slow. The offense didn’t come out swinging and they took advantage of it like a good team’s supposed to do.”
As Hardy noted, the blame does not rest solely on the defensive line. Linebackers Jon Beason and Luke Kuechly flew by makeable plays. Rookie cornerback Josh Norman was burned repeatedly.
But on the line, defensive end Charles Johnson got pressure early and rarely after. Hardy struggled to beat his man off the line. Ron Edwards failed to be effective.
Dwan Edwards picked up a sack for the third straight game, and rookie Frank Alexander added a second sack, but that was it for the Panthers.
“They (Giants’ offensive line) came out, they protected him, he got the ball out fast,” Hardy said. “That’s their MO and we just didn’t respond at all.”
The Giants scored every time they had the ball except twice on Thursday. New York punted from the Carolina 42 with less than a minute left in the half, which led to a kneel down by the Panthers and a 20-0 halftime lead.
The other punt came after the Giants replaced Manning with backup David Carr with roughly four minutes left in the game.
The Giants were missing two of their top three receivers, including former Independence High and North Carolina standout Hakeem Nicks, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and tackle David Diehl but Hardy said after the game that didn’t matter at this level.
“This is NFL football, so the next guy can be just as productive as the first guy,” Hardy said. “Anybody can kill you, you just got to come out and play.”
Ramses Barden finished with nine receptions for a game-high 138 yards. On the ground, backup running back and N.C. State alumnus Andre Brown ate up 113 yards, gashing the Panthers’ defense for gains of 31, 16, 19 and 14 yards throughout the game.
“Even more than the size of the holes, it was the fact that we weren’t wrapping up and tackling when we got our hands on them,” backup defensive end Thomas Keiser said. “That’s where we bled yardage.”
Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers are still young on both sides of the ball. The average age of a Panthers’ player is 24 with four years of NFL experience – both of which are below the NFL averages – and the team still has trouble figuring out how to fight back for a win.
“When you get smacked in the face, you have to get ready to turn around and throw a punch back,” Rivera said. “And at times we don’t know how. We have to learn.”