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Giants vs. Panthers ‘things I think’: For at least one day, there was fun at MetLife

The Giants won a game ... really, they did

Carolina Panthers v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants won a game on Sunday. Really. They did. The scoreboard said so. Giants 25, Panthers 3. Holy cow! Digest that! Here are some of the things I think about Sunday’s game.

QB1, RB1, WR1

Daniel Jones was all of those things for the Giants on Sunday. You knew that if you watched the game, or just followed along on the Big Blue View Twitter account.

Jones put the Giants on his arm, legs and hands (or hand since it was a one-handed catch). For more than two quarters, the injury-ravaged Giants’ offense couldn’t get out of its own way. They couldn’t run block. They kept blowing up promising drives with their own penalties.

That all ended in the third quarter when Jones showcased all of his skills on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis, giving the Giants. 12-3 lead and more or less ending the game. Jones passed for 39 yards, ran for 7, and made a spectacular 16-yard catch to get the Giants into scoring territory.

It was just one spectacular drive. It was just one efficient game for Jones (23 of 33 with nothing close to a turnover) despite all of the play-making weapons and blockers who were not at his disposal. If you watched that game and can’t understand why the Giants think Jones can be their guy for the foreseeable future, I think I don’t know what to tell you.

Watch the benched, erratic Sam Darnold play. Watch Jones play. I know Jones only has 5 touchdown passes on the season, but it was pretty clear on Sunday which one of those two players is a better NFL quarterback.

Meeting the challenge

The Giants’ defense was good in 2020. There is no other way to say it than the defense was bad through the season’s first six games. Sunday, the defense finally played the way they were expected to.

Carolina’s Zane Gonzalez banked a field off the left upright for three Panther points on their first possession. That’s all Carolina got. The Giants allowed only 173 total yards. The Panthers failed to generate a first down on eight of 12 possessions.

“It was kind of an identity game for us,” said defensive back Logan Ryan. “We talk about pride. I have a lot of pride, this defense has a lot of pride, this area has a lot of pride. When people say you’re not playing with pride it’s inexcusable ... we wanted to outscore them (the Panthers) personally. ...

“I love (Panthers head coach) Matt Rhule to death, I respected Temple (University) when he was there and he’s a great coach, but he talked about them establishing their identity and running the ball 33 times to figure out who they are, and they just got to do it next week. They couldn’t establish it against us, so they got to do it next week.”

Carolina also challenged the Giants physically leading up to the game, with Panthers coach Matt Rhule being vocal about his team needing to run the ball 30 or more times. Carolina ran just 17 times for 56 yards (3.3 yards per carry). Carolina finished with just 11 first downs.

“You just don’t let teams come in here and say they’re going to do this to you, do that to you,” Ryan said. “We definitely heard about. There was a lot to take personal how it’s been. We just had to play with a certain type of identity. Dominant defense is a great way to start.”

Hey, look, a pass rush!

It’s amazing what can happen when the opposing team can’t run the ball effectively, then gets behind and has to throw on every down. The defense can just go all out to rush the quarterback.

The Giants ended up with six sacks of Sam Darnold and P.J. Walker on Sunday. Leonard Williams was huge early in the game with a pressure that led to a Sam Darnold intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safety and a sack that ended a Carolina drive in Giants’ territory. He finished with 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. Pro Football Focus had Williams with a 17.9 percent pass rush win rate.

Second-round pick Azeez Ojulari was impactful throughout the game with 2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. Ojulari now has 5.5 sacks on the season. Ojulari was quiet for a few weeks after getting sacks in each of his first three NFL games. He was a loud presence on Sunday.

PFF had Dexter Lawrence with a sack, three pressures and a 12.5 percent pass rush win rate.

Revenge is sweet

Placekicker Graham Gano and cornerback James Bradberry are both former Panthers. Many times you get the “it’s just another game” stuff from players when you ask about motivation against their former teams. Not Sunday. Especially from Gano, who was with Carolina from 2012 through 2019.

“I’ve had this game circled since the schedule came out. I knew they were coming here and I was excited about it,” Gano said. “Obviously, I have awesome memories there, but at the end of the day, I’m a New York Giant and that win feels really, really good.”

Gano made field goals of 49, 53 and 44 yards. The 53-yarder gave him 10 field goal of 50 or more yards as a Giant, breaking a franchise record he shared with Joe Danelo. Judge let Gano speak to media before he did, something I have never seen before in a post-game press conference.

Gano’s kids put a little heat on dad before the game:

“I haven’t seen it. I’ve had people tell me about it, but I’ve had them kicking in the backyard, so one day they might take my job,” Gano said.

Bradberry said his former teammate and good friend Shaq Thompson was trash-talking him and saying “anything that came to his mind” throughout the game.

“It feels good to get an interception against those guys. (Panthers Linebacker) Shaq Thompson was on the sideline talking trash the whole time to me every time I lined up to their side,” Bradberry said. “So, it definitely felt good to throw it in his face and get an interception.”

It’s all fun and games when you win.

A place for Pettis

It took injuries to Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and other Giants wide receivers for Dante Pettis to get an opportunity, but in the past two weeks he has taken advantage of it.

Pettis caught all five passes thrown to him for 39 yards on Sunday, threw what he termed “a dime” to Jones for a 16-yard completion and got an opportunity as a punt returner after Jabrill Peppers was injured.

Pettis now has 10 receptions in two weeks. He has done precisely what you hope depth players will do when their number is called. Good for him.

Plenty to clean up

Judge always talks about things that need to be cleaned up. There was plenty in this game. The Giants short-circuited several first-half scoring opportunities.

They got to Carolina’s 46 on their first possession, went backwards on two plays, got a false start penalty, and eventually punted.

On their second possession, they failed on three tries from inside the Carolina 1-yard line and turned the ball over on downs.

With the score 3-2 Carolina, the Giants reached the Panthers’ 26-yard line. An ineligible man down field penalty on Nate Solder and a David Sills drop led to a field goal.

On the next drive, penalties on Matt Peart and John Ross stalled a drive. Later,na grounding penalty on Jones killed a promising drive.

Despite all the injuries, there is a good offense hiding in there. If only the Giants would fully let it out.