The NFL is all about how you finish … but it doesn't hurt to start fast.
The New York Giants won their season opener for the first time in six years and hope to start 2-0 for the first since that same 2016 season, which led to their most recent playoff berth. According to NFL Research, teams that start 2-0 have made the playoffs 63.0 percent of the time since 1990. That percentage drops to 42.0 for 1-1 teams and 11.3 for 0-2 starts. The Carolina Panthers (0-1) lost their opener to the Cleveland Browns on a late field goal.
"It's a big win for us, but it's one game," quarterback Daniel Jones said of the 21-20 comeback victory over the host Tennessee Titans. "It's about what we do now. I think that's been the approach as soon as we finished up the tape on Monday. We're now on to Carolina, and that's what we focus on. It's just one game. We haven't done anything yet."
Here are the keys to making it "just" two wins to start the season:
Set the edge
The Giants played without their top two edge defenders in Week 1, but Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines more than held their own in place of Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari. Ward had six tackles, but his real impact won't be found in a box score. The off-season addition set the edge all day in Nashville, helping to limit Derrick Henry to 3.9 yards per carry. Ward was named the team's defensive player of the week for his effort.
"And that was unanimous," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "So, he's a physical, tough guy that is the character of what you're looking for as a defensive player. He sets the pace, especially in the run game on setting the edges. He took it personal that game, and that's what has made him who he is. And wherever I'm at, I hope I have Jihad Ward with me. Ox (Ximines), as I call him, has done nothing but worked hard and kept earning trust and kept earning more and more playing time throughout the spring all the way through training camp and the preseason. And I think he did a great job for us in there. He's making plays and doing things the right way, and that's why he's where he's at."
Now the Giants, who could get at least Thibodeaux back for Sunday, are seelomg a repeat performance against Christian McCaffrey, a different type of running back but just as dangerous as Henry.
"I think the keys that we talked about prior to the Tennessee game was we set edges and we play with knockback up front, and we got everybody to the ball," Martindale said. "And it's the same thing playing Christian McCaffery. It's crazy how this league is right now, and I know how you fantasy football players love it. But my goodness, I compared Derrick Henry to Jim Brown. I knew exactly what I was doing. This guy's Barry Sanders. I mean, it's unbelievable; and I know I'm going all old school, but I'm old. So, that's where I'm at with it. This guy's unbelievable."
Distort the box
Saquon Barkley, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after leading all NFL players with 164 rushing yards and 194 yards from scrimmage, faced a light box (six or fewer defenders) on 72.2 pct of rushes against the Titans. That was the highest rate in any game in his career, according to Next Gen Stats, as Barkley averaged 11.5 yards per rush vs. a light box.
Meanwhile, the Panthers defense lined up with six or fewer defenders in the box on just 20.5 percent of run plays, the third-lowest rate of any team in Week 1. If that changes and they stack the box in Week 2, the Giants have ways to counter.
"There's definitely things that you can do within the game plan," Kafka said. "Whether it's personnel-based, formation-based, motion-based. There are definitely some things that you look at to try and get those opportunities. … I think you plan for it. I don't know exactly what they are going to do. I think you plan for those things, and you've got to have answers within the scheme and within the game plan."
Kafka added, "I think any time you can distort the box whether it's creating a numbers count, like we talked about earlier, getting guys in different spots, influencing second level and third level defenders - that helps whether it's pass or run. It can help whatever the scheme you want to run. I think it helps also with the o-line getting certain angles on blocks. I think it can help in the pass game where you are creating certain types of leverages. There's definitely a lot of benefits to it."
Secure the football
It's nothing they haven't already heard, but Jones and Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield have accounted for the third- and second-most turnovers in the NFL since 2019, respectively. Jones had two in Week 1 – an early strip-sack and a costly interception in the red zone in the fourth quarter. The latter led to a conversation on the sideline between head coach and quarterback, who then orchestrated a 12-play, 73-yard drive (plus a successful two-point conversion) to win the game.
"I think he was just communicating the costly mistake," Jones said. "We can't afford to do it. What goes on goes on in a game. There's a lot of communication back and forth, so I understood it. Got to be able to move on."
"I think it was what you saw," offensive coordinator and play-caller Mike Kafka said. "He lit a fire under Daniel and then we came back in the second half, put together a great 12-play drive to go down and win it. Daniel had a lot to do with that drive. I think it was effective in that respect."
Bonus Key: Be loud!
Coaches and players have talked this week about building a winning culture, especially at home. To that end, Martindale, who has been a part of some elite defenses, had a directive for fans on Sunday:
"I've only lived here for a short period of time, but I know New Yorkers are loud. We need to be loud in that stadium. They have to go on silent count. If you want to be part of changing this culture here with the Giants, be loud and have that place rocking where people don't want to come to our stadium. We'll take care of the rest, and we'll give you something to be loud about. But just be loud. I can't wait to see it."
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers.