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The Giants, to a man, agreed that their 19-16 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday at MetLife Stadium was a beautiful thing even if it wasn’t a thing of beauty.
Coach Brian Daboll could have looked at the first-half statistics and cringed. His offense had just 60 total net yards and they had all come through the air. Star running back Saquon Barkley, the difference maker in the season-opening win at Tennessee, had run the ball five times for three yards in the first 30 minutes. Those three yards were negated by the three yards quarterback Daniel Jones lost on his three attempts to run the football.
The offense scored six quick points in the opening quarter, but they were gifted by great field position after takeaways by special teams on the opening kickoff and the defense on Carolina’s first offensive series.
“They are usually a team that plays (a 4-3) defense and they came out in a 3-4,” center Jon Feliciano said. “I think that just took a little bit of time to get everyone on the same page. I think when we did that, we had some production.”
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Still, the disappointment of the first half lingered even into the victorious locker room for Feliciano.
“I just think we need to play better,” the center said. “We can run the ball, definitely. But I think they played well and when you have a team that gave up a bunch of rushing yards the week before, you better believe their coach was emphasizing that this week at their practices.”
The Panthers had been torched for 217 rushing yards in their opening-day loss to Cleveland.
“I think they did a good job of giving us some different looks,” Feliciano said. “But I think once we came in here at halftime, the coaches did a good job of detailing everything and we got a plan that we could ultimately win the game with.”
The defense was at its worst on the Panthers’ first possession of the second half. After the offense went three-and-out for the third straight time to start the second half, the defense surrendered 67 yards on three plays as Carolina took a 13-6 lead. Rookie cornerback Cor’Dale Flott surrendered most of the yardage, allowing a 29-yard completion and a 16-yard touchdown reception to DJ Moore.
After being escorted off the field by a smattering of boos to end the first half, the fans’ discontent grew considerably when quarterback Daniel Jones’ first throw of the next series fell incomplete, which was followed by a 1-yard run by Barkley.
“The biggest thing about this team is that there’s no panic,” Barkley said. “No panic at all. Everybody looks at each other and keeps that competitive mindset and competitive spirit. We believe. We believed we were going to find a way to win this game. That’s the biggest thing — believe in each other and we’ve got to keep having that.”
The trajectory of the offense changed in an instant on the Giants’ second possession of the second half when Jones completed a third-and-10 pass over the middle to Richie James for 15 yards. Barkley followed with a 16-yard run. Jones found James again for 12 yards before finishing the Giants’ only touchdown drive of the day with a couple of tight-end completions. The first one went to Tanner Hudson for 15 yards and the second one was caught by rookie Daniel Bellinger for 16 yards and a touchdown.
After the teams traded field goals early in the fourth quarter, Graham Gano connected for a 56-yard field goal that put the Giants ahead by three.
From that point on the Giants played their best football of the afternoon.
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First the defense came through. A pass interference penalty sandwiched between a couple of Baker Mayfield completions to Christian McCaffrey put the Panthers in a third-and-six situation on their own 46-yard line. That’s when defensive coordinator Wink Martindale dialed up an all-out blitz and safety Julian Love dragged down Mayfield for a nine-yard loss.
“We’re sending pressure and he was the one to get the job done,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “I’m glad he got it done because we got off the field. That’s not designed for anybody. That’s just us trying to create some pressure.”
With three timeouts and the two-minute warning remaining, the Panthers punted the ball away in the hope they’d get it back for one more crack at a game-tying field goal.
“We knew when the defense stopped them that we were in the four-minute mode and if we got the first downs, we win the game,” offensive tackle Andrew Thomas said. “That pumps up the O line because we know the game is kind of on our back. When you can still get movement up front when they know it’s coming and you seal the game, that’s a great feeling.”
Barkley ran for the initial first down on the final drive and on a third-and-six play, Jones scrambled for 11 yards and the first down that put the game away.
“We got together and detailed what we needed to do and I think that showed with that four-minute drill,” Feliciano said. “I mean … it was our time to put the game away and Saquon is a really, really great back and if we give him a little bit of space he’s going to go get the yards.”
The Giants were at their best in the final four minutes Sunday, and in a league where 19 out of 30 games (63.3%) have been decided by less than a touchdown so far this season, the ability to finish strong is what separates the good teams from the bad.
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Bob Brookover can be reached at email@example.com.
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