On the fourth play of the game, Panthers head coach Matt Rhule showed how little respect he had for the Giants’ defense by going for it on 4th-and-1 from the Panthers' 36 yard line.
His team won that battle. But the Giants’ defense won the war.
After weeks of searching for answers and challenging themselves to be better, the embattled defense finally put on a dominant show. They stopped the running game the Panthers promised to rely on, they rattled Sam Darnold, and they held Carolina to just 173 yards. That gave the offense enough time to get its act together and for the Giants to pull off a 25-3 win.
Granted, the Panthers have been falling apart over the last three weeks and their offensive line was battered by injuries. But don’t let any of that take away from what the Giants did. They held the Panthers to just 56 rushing yards and basically forced them to abandon their ground game. And they even drove Darnold out of the game in his return to the Meadowlands. He was benched in the fourth quarter after he completed 16 of 25 passes for just 111 yards.
And they did most of it with a pass rush that had been dormant all season long. They had six sacks and 10 hits on the Panthers quarterbacks. Leonard Williams (1.5 sacks) and linebacker Azeez Ojuliari (2.5) were constant presences in the defensive backfield. That helped the secondary, too, which had the Panthers' receivers well-covered all game long.
They even got the obligatory Darnold turnover when James Bradberry picked him off near the end zone late in the first half. The Giants' defense even rattled Darnold into an intentional grounding penalty early in the second quarter that opened the scoring for them with a safety.
Things will get much tougher for the Giants' defense between now and Thanksgiving, with games upcoming at Kansas City, vs. the Raiders and at Tampa Bay. But at least they reminded everyone – and themselves – that they used to be a pretty good defense. Maybe they still are. We’ll see in the next few weeks.
Here are some more takeaways from the Giants’ second win of the season …
- Best play of the game, and maybe the season: Daniel Jones goes out for a pass and makes a great, diving catch on a 16-yard throw from WR Dante Pettis. The throw was high so Jones had to leap and bring it down with one hand. He even took a big hit at the of the play too. So he can throw, run and catch. If he can figure out a way to block for himself the Giants might be able to run an actual offense!
- This definitely was the breakout game from Ojulari, the Giants’ best hope for an edge rusher out of their current group. It wasn’t just his 2.5 sacks either – though that did bring his season total to 5.5. He was also good against the run, setting the edge and breaking through the line to either stop the running back or change his direction. It was his most active and best game so far.
- A strong game from Jones, even without that catch. He was 23-of-33 for 203 yards and a touchdown and ran eight times for 28 yards. Mostly, though, he hung in there despite a poor first half for the offense and with his offensive line struggling to give him any consistent protection. It wasn’t a great game for him by any stretch, but he didn’t turn the ball over and in the end he found a way to get things done.
- If the Giants want to generate even more pressure, maybe they should think about sending S Jabrill Peppers more often. He showed the damage he could do on a sack late in the first half when his blitz was picked up by Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard and he was flipped over, got right back up and chased Darnold down for a three-yard sack near the sideline. It was as much of an effort as any Giants defender has given all season long.
- In a game that might have been a showcase for TE Evan Engram with the trading deadline less than two weeks away, he finished with six catches for 44 yards. Early on, it looked like he might be a dominant presence on offense, but Jones didn’t lean on him as the game went on. Some of that was because they needed his blocking with the offensive line falling apart.
- The Giants’ starting offensive line was LT Matt Peart, LG Matt Skura, C Billy Price, RG Will Hernandez and RT Nate Solder. That’s the sixth different offensive line combination they’ve used in seven games this season. It also went about as well as you’d expect. Jones was battered and pressured all game long and there weren’t many holes for Devontae Booker to run through. At this point, the Giants have so many injuries up front, there’s not a lot they can do about it anymore.
- Good job by Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett using rollouts a lot more frequently than he seemed to use in the past. It was a good way to get Jones out of harm’s way, especially since he’s so good at making throws from outside the pocket. He also made a wise call on the first play of the game when he called for a Jones run that went for 14 yards. That established the threat early and had to be on the minds of the Panthers defenders every time Jones got outside.
- The Giants could’ve made this a blowout if only they had scored early when they had a 1st and goal from the two in the first quarter. What came next was an offensive disaster. On first down Jones hit TE Kyle Rudolph short of the line of scrimmage and he just stepped out of bounds before the ball crosses the goal line. On 2nd and goal from the one, Booker was stuffed trying to dive over the middle. On 3rd and goal from the one, Jones rolled out, Engram is covered, so he throws it out of bounds. Then on 4th and goal from the one, Booker couldn't even get to the line of scrimmage. Four plays from the two or closer and the Giants get nothing. Nothing!
- WR Sterling Shepard has clearly had a setback with his hamstring injury, even if the Giants don’t want to call it that. After missing practice late in the week he had an abbreviated pre-game workout before being declared inactive. With WRs Kenny Golladay (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle) out too, the Giants’ receiving corps was Darius Slayton, John Ross, Collin Johnson, Pettis, and Davis Sills. Slayton led the way with five catches for 63 yards, but Pettis was impressive too. He caught five passes for 39 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown. He also threw that nifty pass to Jones.