So much for those concerns about Ron Rivera’s job security.
A day that started with questions about the status of the third-year coach ended with the most lopsided victory in Panthers’ history – a 38-0 victory against the New York Giants that gave the Panthers a needed jolt headed into the bye week.
Quarterback Cam Newton accounted for four touchdowns and the Panthers tied a franchise record with seven sacks in a dismantling of a Giants team that beat Carolina 36-7 in Charlotte last year.
It was the largest margin of victory in the Panthers’ 19-year history and their first shutout since a 34-0 blanking of Kansas City in 2008, which had been their largest winning margin.
It was the worst loss for the Giants (0-3) in 10 seasons under coach Tom Coughlin.
The Panthers (1-2) are off until an Oct.6 game at Arizona.
After losing to Seattle and Buffalo by a total of six points, a loss Sunday would have made for a miserable bye week for the organization – or, for Rivera, maybe worse.
“It makes life a lot easier. It really does,” Rivera said. “This has been tough. The first two weeks have been disappointing. I know that. I know there were things we could have done better. We could have coached better and given our guys better opportunities to win.”
The sixth shutout in club history was remarkable given the makeup of the secondary. The Panthers were missing five injured defensive backs, including three starters.
Their starters Sunday included an undrafted rookie (strong safety Robert Lester), a cornerback they cut two weeks ago (Drayton Florence) and a natural strong safety (Mike Mitchell) playing free safety.
The Panthers dropped seven in coverage to help the secondary and relied on their front four to put pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who was sacked seven times and knocked down on a handful of other plays.
The seven sacks tied a franchise mark set six previous times, mostly recently in a loss last season in Atlanta.
“They didn’t put their secondary out there on an island much and were able to get great pressure with just bringing four guys, and that’s tough,” Manning said. “When you can drop seven guys and rush four and get pressure, it’s going to make it hard for any offense to have a successful passing game.”
The Panthers sacked Manning six times in the first half, including three by defensive end Greg Hardy. The defensive line had one sack the first two weeks against mobile quarterbacks Russell Wilson and EJ Manuel.
Hardy, who repeatedly beat Giants left tackle Will Beatty around the edge, said it was a relief to face a pocket passer.
“Eli is really, really slippery. But it’s a big deal when you come off a (Wilson) and Buffalo, with the type of quarterback that they have, that’s mobile,” Hardy said. “You get a guy that’s actually back there and wants to throw the ball, it’s relieving as a pass-rusher to say the least.”
The constant pressure helped the Panthers bolt to a 17-0 halftime lead and a 163-18 advantage in total yardage. The Giants’ 18 first-half yards were the second-fewest allowed in a half by the Panthers in team history.
“I like our front four against anybody,” said Florence, who rejoined the team Wednesday after being part of the final roster cuts. “Any time you can get a quarterback like Eli looking at the pressure instead of looking downfield, that’s big. Some of those were coverage sacks. Some of those were guys up front just beating their guys.”
The patchwork secondary held Manning to 119 yards and a 49.0 passer rating, and forced three turnovers. Undrafted rookies Melvin White and Lester were responsible for all of the takeaways.
In addition to the pass rush, the Panthers’ zone read also made a reappearance.
Newton (seven carries for 45 yards, one touchdown) and running back DeAngelo Williams (23-120) had season highs in rushing, and Newton passed for 223 yards and three scores. Newton threw touchdown passes of 16 and 20 yards to Brandon LaFell, and hit Ted Ginn on a 47-yarder for the Panthers’ final score.
Newton was on the sideline for the last two series while backup Derek Anderson finished it out.
“I told a couple guys in the locker room, we were past due for a win like this,” Newton said. “A win like this boosts our ego, but not in a negative way. It just gives us the swagger we will need continuously to go.”
Veteran left tackle Jordan Gross said it was a big win on many levels.
“It might silence a little bit of the murmurs out there about our organization. It gives us players a ton of confidence and validity to what we’ve been doing,” Gross said. “We believe that we’re a good team and we haven’t been able to get the fruits of our labor the first two weeks. To be able to come out and get a 38-point win against the Giants, who did almost the exact opposite to us last year, really means a lot.”
Hardy, who fell a half-sack short of tying teammate Charles Johnson’s single-game record, said Rivera never made Sunday’s game about himself.
“We’ve got a real elegant, players’ coach. He wasn’t really worried about anything as far as himself. He basically came out and said, ‘Hey, (forget) me. I’m here for you guys. We’re going to win because we’re a team, not because of any of that,’” Hardy said.
“It’s amazing how you can come out and trust a guy. He gives you something like that, it makes you want to play 10 times harder.”
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