The Harlem Globetrotters play a team called the Washington Generals. The Generals fall for the Globetrotters jokes and then they lose.
The New York Giants were the Globetrotters. The Carolina Panthers were the Generals.
New York didnt play Carolina. It played with it. The 36-7 final score doesnt attest to the difference between the teams Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.
The Giants scored on the first series of the game, moving 80 yards in eight plays. The Giants scored the next time they had the ball, and the next, and the next.
Every time you looked Eli Manning was finding an open receiver youd never heard of or running back Andre Brown was finding room to run.
Brown, 25, played for the N.C. championship Greenville Rose high, for N.C. State and, for a week in 2010, the Panthers. He was always thought to have talent, but he was often too injured to prove it. He bounced from team to team like a temp. He was healthy Thursday: he rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
It was as if the Panthers never had the ball. When they did, they rarely kept it.
Quarterback Cam Newton was often under pressure and sacked twice. But even when he had time he was off. He appeared to latch onto a receiver and thats where the ball was going and a New York defender would pick off the pass. He threw three interceptions.
The Panthers are 0-1 when David Carr, the former Carolina quarterback who now plays for New York, has a better passer rating than Newton.
The performance was his worst. It also was among his teams worst ever.
This was an opportunity. There was only one NFL game played Thursday night and the Panthers played it and they played it here, in front of their fans, in a game televised nationally.
The Panthers are a compelling team, they have an exciting quarterback, theyre on their way up and they were got to prove it.
But Carolina was hopelessly outclassed when it had the ball and hopelessly outclassed when it didnt. As bad as the offense and defense were, the special teams were worse.
The Panthers also made mistakes that attest to their youth. Rookie cornerback Josh Norman, who was so good the last two weeks, was repeatedly torched in the first half. Manning looked for him and went after him. Yet Norman celebrated when he finally broke up a pass.
After Cam Newton scored a third-quarter touchdown on a 1-yard run he performed, albeit slowly, his trademark Superman celebration.
Hey, with the extra point the score was 23-7. The Giants were clinging to a 16-point lead.
On New Yorks next play from scrimmage Manning hit tight end Martellus Bennett with an uncontested 29-yard pass over the middle. Whatever momentum Newtons touchdown generated already had gone away.
Carolinas high point was a scuffle between Panther receiver Steve Smith (5-foot-9 and 185 pounds) and New York cornerback Corey Webster (6-0, 200). When the scuffle ended, Smith was ahead on points. At no other time did the Panthers lead in anything.
These were not the Panthers we saw late last season or, I promise you, in training camp this summer.
The loss was inexplicable. But it was one loss. So now what?
The Panthers play Atlanta on the road in 10 days. Theyll have time to prepare, time to think about their abysmal work.
But what if this is who they are? What if it was not, as many of us chose to believe, their loss to Tampa that was the fluke?
What if it was their victory against New Orleans?