EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' offense and defense each faced a unique challenge as the team prepared to play the Carolina Panthers.
Offensively, the players knew they'd take the field without several of their most productive teammates, including Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney. They were all inactive on Sunday, as was a fourth standout, wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
The issues on defense were not centered on health, but performance. In losses the previous two weeks to Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams, the Giants had allowed 82 points, their highest two-game total in almost six years. That led to a lot of outside chatter that the defense wasn't approaching the impressive standard it set in 2020.
"We took it personal," said cornerback James Bradberry, whose second-quarter interception was the game's only takeaway. "We're a defense, and our goal is to stop them from scoring. We hadn't been doing that the past few weeks. Our goal today was to come out here and play strong every series. I think we did a good job of doing that, so we're definitely happy with our results."
They should be. The defense was outstanding in the Giants' 25-3 victory against the Carolina Panthers in MetLife Stadium. Carolina coach Matt Rhule was determined to run the football. But the Panthers rushed for only 56 yards on 17 carries, a 3.3-yard average. Leading rusher Chuba Hubbard was held to 28 yards on 12 attempts.
"We made an emphasis on running the football this week," Rhule said. "It didn't show up."
Not much did against the Giants' inspired defense. Carolina finished with only 117 passing yards, 173 total yards and 11 first downs. The Giants' defense sacked quarterbacks Sam Darnold and PJ Walker three times apiece. The unit also forced a safety when it pressured Darnold so fiercely in the second quarter he threw a pass from the end zone that was nowhere near an eligible receiver.
"This is big-time," lineman Leonard Williams, who had 1.5 sacks, said of the defense's performance. "As a unit, we kind of talked about putting the team on our back more and how our team is—what we think our team is built around the defense. We take pride in being a defensive team and you know so far this year we haven't really been stepping up to the plate and I think this was a really big game for us. We didn't allow any touchdowns and we're putting our offense in some good field position and we closed the game out like we wanted to."
View photos from the New York Giants' 25-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium.
In addition to vindicating themselves, the defensive players set a tone until the offense could catch up. After a first half that ended 5-3, the Giants pitched a shutout in the final two quarters while scoring 20 points. The victory improved the Giants' record to 2-5. Carolina lost its fourth consecutive game and fell to 3-4.
"It was kind of an identity game for us," safety Logan Ryan said. "Wasn't perfect, it was pretty good, wasn't perfect. Some missed tackles, some stuff we've got to clean up schematically. We talk about pride and I have a lot of pride and this defense has a lot of pride and this area has a lot of pride. When people say you're not playing with pride, that's just inexcusable. You shouldn't even allow that to be questioned. I think today, no matter what was going to happen, we wanted to outscore them personally. I was mad we didn't beat them – it was 3-2, their offense versus our defense in points. We really wanted to outscore them. It just came out of pride and kind of the way you do it. Same plays, same defense, same X's and O's, not everything was magic drawn up in the dirt. It was just playing with more pride and passion and let that energy lift the team."
Quarterback Daniel Jones did just about everything but snap the ball. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 203 yards, rushed for 28 yards on eight carries, and picked up his first career reception with a nifty one-handed catch for 16 yards on a pass thrown by Dante Pettis. The wide receiver also displayed his versatility, catching five passes for 39 yards, including a five-yard touchdown. Devontae Booker ran for a 19-yard touchdown and Graham Gano kicked field goals of 49, 53 and 44 yards. He tied his own franchise single season record with his fifth field goal of 50+ yards and set the career mark with his 10th in two years.
"I've had this game circled since the schedule came out," said Graham, who was with the Panthers from 2012-19, though he couldn't play in the final season because of a leg injury. "I knew they were coming here, and I was excited about it. Obviously, I have awesome memories there, but at the end of the day, I'm a New York Giant and that win feels really, really good."
For a long time, it seemed each team would finish with a single-digit point total. Pettis ended those thoughts when he caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Jones with 59 seconds remaining in the third quarter to push the Giants' lead to 12-3.
The most memorable play on the drive occurred three minutes earlier when Jones handed the ball to Booker, who flipped it to Pettis, who threw it down the right side where Jones corralled it for the first reception by a Giants quarterback since Kerry Collins on Sept. 10, 2001.
"We weren't really going for originality on that," coach Joe Judge said. "But we thought it could be effective and he made it work. Him and Pettis did that. They actually had a play in practice that looked basically identical to that with the way that Dante threw it and how he had to catch, so it's amazing how practice execution becomes game reality."
Judge said Jones did not drop any of Pettis' practice passes.
"We had a couple, I would say, errant throws," Judge said. "It was a little bit of tryouts on the field at times, but Dante comes from a baseball family, so I'm sure he's not going for Thanksgiving in the future if he doesn't make that throw."
Jones said he doesn't remember ever catching a pass in a game, even in high school. He was quick to credit Pettis for the reception he secured on Sunday.
"It was a pretty unathletic route getting out there, so he put it out there for me and I just tried to pull it in," Jones said. "Good play, good design, something we'd worked on all week. Good throw by Dante). … I don't think the route was very good and I don't think I was moving very fast. I've been on the other end of that, so I get mad at guys and I did the same thing there. I think it was a good throw and Dante's thrown it well all week. He's done a good job with it and just tried to execute it."
Pettis jokingly complained that Jones could have helped him throw an NFL touchdown pass.
"I thought that was a dime if he would have kept running," Pettis said. "He made a great catch, so I guess it worked out even better. Yeah, I thought it was a pretty good throw."
Jones was clobbered at the end of the play by Carolina safety Sean Chandler, a former Giant.
"I honestly didn't see the hit," Pettis said. "As soon as I saw him pull it in, I turned around and fist-pumped. I was celebrating already. I didn't even know he got hit like that honestly, so, sorry Daniel."
After a dominating performance on Sunday, all was forgiven.