You never can tell, can you? The Panthers played one of the most complete games in franchise history Sunday to smoke the New York Giants, 38-0, Sunday in Charlotte and go to 1-2 in this strange season. It was Carolina's largest margin of victory in their 19 seasons. Here are the seven things I liked the most:
1. Ron Rivera set the tone early. With the score tied 0-0, Rivera went against tendency, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the New York 2. Mike Tolbert scored standing up and, amazingly, the rout was on. Rivera's job looks safe for the season.
2. Cam was Cam. Newton threw three touchdown passes, ran for a fourth and looked like a Pro Bowler after an early interception. He ran the ball a lot when he needed to but put it on the money on all three touchdown throws, with the 47-yarder to Ted Ginn Jr. the showstopper.
3. Greg Hardy and the Panther pass rush. After his tongue-in-cheek prediction of 50 sacks this season, Hardy had been held sackless in the first two games. But he had three in this game as the Panthers harassed Eli Manning all day, sacking him a total of seven times -- tying a Panther team record.
4. Brandon LaFell. A huge game for the Panthers' on-and-off No.2 receiver. He scored twice on passes from Cam Newton -- one from 16, one from 20 -- and also saved a touchdown when Newton was late on a deep sideline throw and intercepted. LaFell's tackle at the Carolina 17 allowed the Panthers' defense to get back on the field, and the defense was so dominant when it counted Sunday that New York ended up not getting any points on that or any other drive.
5. Chase Blackburn. The Panther coaching staff made a sad but necessary move to begin the game, starting Blackburn in front of Jon Beason at weakside linebacker. Beason has been a shell of himself too often in the first two games as he tries to come back from injury. Blackburn had a strong game in a sterling defensive effort, and the defensive secondary was extraordinary for being as patched-together as it was.
6. Graham Gano. The Panthers' kicker has been overshadowed because of Carolina's first two losses, but he is off to a spectacular start. He is a guaranteed touchback on nearly every kick and nailed a 53-yarder in the second quarter Sunday to give Carolina a 10-0 lead.
7. Melvin White. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette made an athletic pickoff of Manning in the third quarter. He's only the Panthers' second most famous undrafted FA out of that college -- Jake Delhomme would be your No.1 Ragin' Cajun -- but that was a heck of a play. White would later cause a fumble as well. And fellow undrafted rookie Robert Lester also had an interception. The Panthers outgained the Giants by a startling 402-150 in yardage on the day. As Steve Smith said, they played so well they are going to "take a week off" -- the team doesn't play again until Oct.6th at Arizona.
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