Panthers flop in prime time with 36-7 loss to Giants

jperson@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 21, 2012 

— It might be a long time before the NFL Network brings its cameras and production trucks back to Charlotte.

The Panthers proved they’re not yet ready for prime time Thursday in a 36-7 loss to the reigning Super Bowl-champion New York Giants in front of a near-capacity crowd at Bank of America Stadium.

It was the first prime-time game at home since 2009 for the Panthers (1-2), who have dropped seven in a row when facing the reigning Super Bowl winner.

The Giants (2-1) won their second consecutive game after a Week 1 loss to Dallas.

Carolina was never in contention. The Panthers allowed the Giants to score on their first four possessions and fell behind 20-0 at halftime.

The Panthers had five turnovers, including three interceptions by Cam Newton. They still have never won a game in which Newton has thrown an interception, falling to 0-11.

Down 29 points in the final minute, the Panthers still had veteran wideout Steve Smith in the game.

Coach Ron Rivera said he hopes some of the younger players saw how Smith continued to fight.

But Smith said nothing from Thursday’s game was salvageable.

“Everything that we did tonight, we need to go ahead and get a trash can – a good, tin one – and burn those plays and never go back to them. Because it was shameful for the fans,” Smith said. “It was just flat-out terrible. We just got our tails whipped from the beginning to the end in every aspect. It was pretty disgusting.”

Newton completed 16 of 30 passes for 242 yards, and finished with a passer rating of 40.6, the worst of his career.

Like Smith, Newton said the Panthers blew a great chance to make a statement to their fans by getting blown out.

“Who wants to support something that puts on a performance of embarrassment? That’s what that was,” Newton said. “If I was a fan of the Carolina Panthers I’d be holding my head down in shame at the product that was out there.”

Giants quarterback Eli Manning, fresh from his 510-yard passing game against Tampa Bay, completed 27 of 35 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown.

Former N.C. State and one-time Panthers running back Andre Brown, subbing for Ahmad Bradshaw, rushed 20 times for a career-high 113 yards and two touchdowns.

New York racked up 303 yards in the first half, compared to 125 for the Panthers. The Giants finished with 417 yards, despite playing without three offensive starters – wideout and Charlotte product Hakeem Nicks, Bradshaw and right tackle David Diehl.

Manning still had plenty of firepower. Mainly, he threw to whichever receiver was lined up against rookie cornerback Josh Norman, who had a tough night in coverage.

“That’s part of the game. When you’re a rookie, you’ve got to have that target on your back,” Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “They just want to see what your made of. That’s what (Manning) did.”

Newton’s 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the Panthers’ lone score.

But Newton threw two bad passes after the Panthers had driven to the Giants’ 39 on their deepest penetration of the first half. After bouncing a ball to tight end Greg Olsen, Newton threw behind Brandon LaFell.

The ball bounced off LaFell’s hand and was picked off by cornerback Jayron Hosley.

“I thought it was good and bad,” Rivera said of Newton’s performance. “I think he got a little anxious at the end and forced some (throws) and bad things happened.”

The second half started off badly when Joe Adams fumbled the kickoff and the Giants recovered at the Panthers’ 19. The Panthers drafted Adams in the fourth round to be their punt returner, but continue to use him as their kick returner, too – despite his 20.4-yard average against the Giants.

Adams’ fumble led to the third of Lawrence Tynes’ five field goals, padding the Giants’ lead to 23-0.

After Newton air-mailed a pass that linebacker Michael Boley picked off with 13 minutes, 31 seconds left in the game, a steady stream of Panthers fans made their way out of the stadium and back to their tailgates – or home.

The stadium was nearly full for the start. But the energy quickly was sucked out of it.

For the third consecutive week, the Panthers allowed an 80-yard touchdown drive on their first series on defense. Brown, who was with the Panthers briefly in 2010, had the biggest play of the drive – a 31-yard run after breaking a tackle by linebacker Jon Beason.

Manning, who was 4-for-5 on the opening drive, capped it with a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett.

“We didn’t come out on defense and stop them like we planned to,” Munnerlyn said. “We never stopped the bleeding on defense. They got anything they wanted.”

The road gets no easier for the Panthers. Next up is a Sept.30 trip to Atlanta, which looks to be the class of the NFC South.

“We’ve got a helluva game coming up next week against Atlanta at their place,” said tight end Greg Olsen, who had a team-high seven catches for 98 yards. “They’re playing really well. So we better figure it out quick.”

But Rivera wants the bad taste to linger over the long weekend.

“I hope it sits in the pit of our stomach for a whole week,” Rivera said. “Because it’s a lousy feeling.”

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