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Giants build confidence during 2-0 start


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There's something about Graham Gano and Giants-Carolina Panthers game.

"I know," Gano said, "(I'm) 4-0, right?

Actually, no. The number is five. Gano has participated in five games in this rivalry, and he played on the winning side each time. And in three of the games, he scored the deciding points.

Gano did it again on Sunday. The 13-year veteran kicked a 56-yard field goal with 3:34 remaining and both the offense and defense made big plays down the stretch as the Giants defeated the Panthers, 19-16, in MetLife Stadium. It was his fourth field goal of the game and second of longer than 50 yards in the fourth quarter.

The Giants have won their first two games by one and three points to improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2016 – which was also the last season they won their home opener and earned a playoff berth.

Graham's point production was particularly valuable, because the Giants' offense sputtered throughout the first half and reached the end zone just once the entire game, on Daniel Jones' 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger in the third quarter. In the first two quarters, the Giants totaled 60 yards – all through the air – and four first downs.

"We made enough plays to win the game and that's something to build off of and we'll celebrate it tonight," Jones said. "But going forward, we're going to look to clean it up and see how we can be better. I think it's always more fun to win, you can build some confidence off that, but there is certainly a lot we'll work on."

View photos from the Giants' Week 2 game vs. the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium.

On the plus side, the Giants did not commit a turnover while forcing two and the defense stifled Carolina's offense for most of the game.

And then there was Gano, who was the difference in a game that was eerily even through the first three quarters.

In the opening period, Gano kicked field goals of 36 and 33 yards. Carolina's Eddy Pineiro countered in the second quarter with 31 and 32-yarders to create a 6-6 halftime tie.

Each team scored on a 16-yard pass in the third quarter: Baker Mayfield to DJ Moore for Carolina and, three minutes later, Jones to Bellinger to make it 13-13 at the end of three.

Gano regained the lead for the Giants with his 51-yarder with 12:31 remaining. Pineiro tied it 1:45 later with a 38-yard three-pointer.

On their ensuing possession, the Giants advanced to Carolina's 33-yard line before Jon Feliciano's holding penalty set them back 10 yards. They regained five yards on a pass to Sterling Shepard, leaving them with a fourth-and-18 and coach Brian Daboll with a decision – punt to try to pin the Panthers deep in their own territory or let Gano attempt a 56-yard, go-ahead field goal.

"It was a probably a little bit past the line that we said going into the game by about a yard-and-a-half," Daboll said. "I just told T-Mac (special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey) – I mean he was kicking it well. He kicked the other one well. I looked at Graham. He's done it a lot in practice. I know he's played a lot in this league. And again, we'd like to be closer for him, but that's his job as a kicker and a snapper (Casey Kreiter) and as a holder (Jamie Gillan) – to execute those plays when we need it the most. A lot of time it's under pressure, and the three of those guys along with the field goal protection unit did a good job."

"Dabs looked at me, and he kind of just said, 'Go out,'" Gano said. "And he said, 'Hey, can you make this?' I looked over, and I laughed. I got out there and I was like, 'Man this is a long one. And the wind is blowing our way.'"

Anyone who tracks the Giants-Panthers series could have predicted Gano would make it.

He first participated in the rivalry with Carolina in 2013 and kicked a 53-yard field goal and five extra points in a 38-0 Panthers victory. Two seasons later, he again kicked five PATs and more notably a 43-yard field goal as time expired to give Carolina a 38-35 triumph in MetLife Stadium.

On Oct. 7, 2018, his heroics reached new heights when with one second remaining, he booted a 63-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 33-31 victory in Charlotte. It is the longest field goal ever kicked against the Giants.

That was Gano's final season with the Panthers.

Last year, his second with the Giants, he kicked field goals of 44, 53 and 44 yards in a 25-3 Giants victory against Carolina. It was the fourth game in Giants history in which a kicker had three field goals longer than 40 yards in a regular-season game. Gano has three of those performances.

He added to his legacy with four field goals Sunday, including the 56-yarder, which tied two Ali Haji-Sheikh kicks in 1983 for the second-longest in Giants history (behind Aldrick Rosas, 57 yards on Dec. 2, 2018).

"Those 50-plus yarders are special," Gano said. "Everything has to go right on them. It's a lot different than hitting a 30-yarder, even though that 30-yarder early in the game, my heart was pounding because we got the fumble recovery (on the opening kickoff). And I ran down and realized, 'Hey, we're in field goal range.' So, I got to calm my heart rate. Yeah, those 50-yarders are fun, but everything's got to go right. So, it's a lot more fun when you make those."

Especially when they improve you to 5-0 in a series.

"I try to forget the three (victories) on the other side while I'm part of the Giants," Gano said. "But it's special. I feel good being on the winning side here as a Giant, and I'm just excited for us to get the win."

Is he more excited because he spent seven seasons with and scored 742 points for Carolina?

"Yeah, it's always special to play your former teams," he said. "But at the same time, I can't lose sight of how thankful I was to have time there. I raised my family while we were there, had a bunch of kids down there. There are so many great people in that organization. So, as much as it feels good to get the win, obviously that's why we play the game – we want to win – I'm also very grateful for the time that I had there. I think I can be happy with both."

The Giants still had business to take care of after Gano's deciding field goal. The Panthers hoped to tie the score, but on third-and-six from their own 46, Julian Loved sacked Baker Mayfield for a six-yard loss.

Carolina punted with 1:50 remaining and the Giants soon faced a third-and-six at their 40. If they were stopped, the Panthers would get one more shot. But Jones scrambled 11 yards up the middle, sealing the outcome.

"We talked about it – and Mike (Kafka, the offensive coordinator) recommended that play," Daboll said. "It was a naked play, so we had a couple different options. And he made the right one. If not, he probably would've taken a sack just so he kept the clock moving there. But I think it's important to show players that you have faith in them. They work their asses off during the week. They've worked their asses off during camp. They're the ones out there playing on Sunday, and you have to put it in their hands when it counts the most. And that's what Kafka did with Daniel, and Daniel made the right decision. We ended up kneeling on the ball."

A perfect gesture for the Giants' 2-0 start.