Giants dominate Panthers for much-needed victory

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Jason Garrett unglued stuck pages in his playbook, the defense delivered a throwback performance and the weekly soundtrack of boos was replaced by two celebratory playings of “Back in the New York Groove.”

It was an all-around feel-good Sunday for the Giants, who dominated the Panthers in a 25-3 win at a three-quarters-capacity MetLife Stadium.

Daniel Jones threw for 203 yards and a touchdown and Devontae Booker rushed for 51 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown to put a bow on the win, but the real story was the resurfacing of a defense that carried big expectations into the season. With Leonard Williams — who questioned the fans’ booing last week — leading the way with six tackles and 1.5 sacks, the Giants’ defense recorded a season-high six sacks and scored two points.

In his return to MetLife Stadium, Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold — the one-time future of the Jets — completed just 16 of 25 passes for 111 yards with an interception before he was benched in the fourth quarter.

James Bradberry (right) celebrates an interception with Adoree' Jackson in the Giants' win over the Panthers.
James Bradberry (right) celebrates an interception with Adoree’ Jackson in the Giants’ win over the Panthers.

The Panthers have lost four in a row after a 3-0 start, all coinciding with the injury absence of All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. Injuries are no excuse, though, as the Giants know well after playing without Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney on offense.

After managing just three offensive points on five total first-half possessions that reached Panthers’ territory, the Giants clung to a 5-3 third-quarter lead until Garrett got creative on a 75-yard touchdown drive.

A receiver-reverse option pass led to Dante Pettis throwing a 13-yard completion to Jones, who tipped the overthrow with one hand, secured it with the other and hung onto the ball as he took a shot to the head. A rare option pitch to Devontae Booker gained 11 yards. And then Jones and Pettis connected in traditional fashion when Pettis executed a rub route and rolled over the top of his tackler to stretch for a 5-yard touchdown.

The 12-3 third-quarter lead would’ve been insurmountable if this game lasted 100 quarters.

Even special teams made an impact for the Giants, who outsmarted the Panthers in the first quarter by sending in the punt-block unit and forcing a shanked kick that created great starting field position. It led to a five-point swing.

A what? Five? Let’s explain.

After Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown catch was taken off the board because replay showed he stepped out of bounds, the Giants failed on three attempts inside the 1-yard line as boos rained down. Two handoffs to Devontae Booker and a bootleg pass that fooled no one left a lot to be desired from Garrett.

Daniel Jones breaks free for a run in the Giants' win over the Panthers.
Daniel Jones breaks free for a run in the Giants’ win over the Panthers.
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But the defense picked up the slack as Williams and Lorenzo Carter hurried a panicked Darnold into throwing an incompletion from the end zone that was flagged for intentional grounding (target Royce Freeman was knocked to the ground) and a safety. The Giants turned the ensuing free kick into a 49-yard field goal and grabbed a 5-3 lead.

The Panthers had their own red-zone fail when a drive that progressed to the 11-yard line was derailed by a holding penalty and a forced throw on second-and-24. When Darnold should’ve played for the go-ahead field goal, he threw into zone coverage and James Bradberry jumped for the interception standing at the 5-yard line.

Bradberry spent his first four seasons with the Panthers but the new regime did not show much interest in re-signing him as a free agent in 2020. He joined the Giants on a three-year, $43.5 million contract, made the Pro Bowl last season and has been inconsistent this season.

Another former Panther, kicker Graham Gano, also exacted revenge with his three long field goals, including a 52-yarder. Released by the Panthers after he felt they mismanaged his injury in 2019, Gano needed just 23 games to set the Giants’ all-time record for 50-plus yard field goals (10).

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