Charlotte Native Hakeem Nicks had three touchdown catches against the Panthers. (AP Photo)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Nobody played better defense in the preseason than the Carolina Panthers.
But then, as we all know, the preseason means nothing.
The Panthers allowed the New York Giants to roll up 376 yards on offense and score four touchdowns, numbers that didn't sit too well with LB Jon Beason, the team's defensive leader.
“It’s not Panther football,” Beason said after Carolina's 31-18 defeat. “We are trying to establish a new level of excellence here and a level of play that’s consistent. We didn’t play 60 minutes of football. The second and third quarters were unacceptable. The good thing about it is we had some big plays and we had four turnovers. We have some things that we can build on.”
FS Charles Godfrey had two interceptions for the Panthers off tipped balls and SLB James Anderson added a third.
“We didn’t play too well,” Godfrey said. “We didn’t play our type of defense. We had some little miscues on defense assignment-wise. Not paying attention to details cost us a couple of touchdowns and that’s not us. That’s not what we do. We have to go back and correct those.
“We played our game in the preseason. But that didn’t roll over to the regular season. But we’ll get back to that defense and we’ll be all right.”
After posting 20 sacks in the preseason, the Panthers only managed one on Sunday and got none from their defensive ends. The lone sack came from MLB Dan Connor on a blitz.
“It was different out there today,” said DE Everette Brown. "They did a good job of mixing things up offensively. We just have to get pressure on the quarterback and get him down. Eli (Manning) was too comfortable out there and he was allowed to make checks and look off receivers. That’s something that's not good for this defense. It starts up front, run or pass.”
JANSEN BOTCHES SNAP: Normally reliable LS J.J. Jansen had the ball slip out of his hands on a punt snap and the Giants recovered during the third quarter in what was a key turning point in the game.
It was raining for most of the game, so the ball and the field were a little slick.
The ball came oddly bouncing between Jansen’s legs and didn’t even make it back to punter Jason Baker, who had to scramble to get in on the tackle. Jansen was charged with a fumble.
“It got stuck in the turf, but you can’t allow that to happen,” coach John Fox said.
LaFELL GETS START: Rookie WR Brandon LaFell got the start Sunday over Dwayne Jarrett, but said afterward he played a “horrible game.”
“It means a lot to get my first start under my belt and get some reps under my belt, but I have a lot of work to do,” said LaFell, who let one pass bounce right off his hands. LaFell did draw a pass interference penalty that set the Panthers up inside the Giants 5-yard line.
When asked what he wants to get better at, LaFell said, “Everything – blocking, catching the ball, running the right routes. I played a horrible game. If I would have played halfway better I think we would have had a chance to win this game.”
Jarrett was used as the team’s third receiver behind Steve Smith and LaFell and made two nice grabs for 40 yards during the hurry-up offense in the fourth quarter. Other than that, he wasn't a major factor in the offense.
SMITH IS BACK: WR Steve Smith, who finished with five receptions for 75 yards and scored Carolina’s lone touchdown, said he was relieved to get through the first game of the season. Smith broke his arm against the Giants last December after being hit in the end zone following a touchdown reception.
“I ran some good routes, some shaky routes and ran some impatient routes, but overall I came out OK and the arm feels good,” Smith said. “All the screws are connected, so it’s good.”
When asked if his 19-yard touchdown came on a similar route to the one he broke his arm on against the Giants last year, Smith smiled and said, “I can neither confirm nor deny. I’m just happy I got up.”
EDWARDS INACTIVE: Not surprisingly, rookie WR Armanti Edwards was inactive for Sunday’s game against the Giants. Edwards simply isn’t a polished product ye, and needs more time to develop as both a receiver and a returner.
Carolina’s other inactives were WR David Gettis, DTs Nick Hayden and Andre Neblett, RB Tyrell Sutton, OT Jeff Otah and LB Jordan Senn. Tony Pike was the third QB. With only three active tackles, DEs Charles Johnson and Tyler Brayton were asked to move inside and rush the quarterback on obvious passing downs.
MUNNERLYN RETURNS: Captain Munnerlyn was the team’s punt returner and had a 28-yard return to the Giants 29 to set up Carolina’s first score of the game, a 21-yard field goal by John Kasay.
ROOKIES AT WORK: Of Carolina's 10 draft picks this year, six were active for Sunday’s game -- QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Brandon LaFell, DE Greg Hardy, LB Eric Norwood, S Jordan Pugh and CB Robert McClain.
Hardy accounted for a blocked punt in the second half that resulted in a safety. Normally teams have a speedy cornerback line up on the outside on punt block, but the Panthers put Hardy there on Sunday because of his speed.
“That was a called play,” Hardy said. “I just do whatever they ask me to do.”
INJURY UPDATE: Todd Carter was brought to New York to do one thing and that’s kickoff. But he couldn’t even do that on Sunday after injuring his back during warmups. He kicked off just once on Sunday before leaving the game for good, meaning John Kasay had to handle that role for the rest of the day.
“I did it in warm-ups,” Carter said. “I came in and got heat and tried to loosen it up. I went out and I didn’t feel bad, but once I kicked it (the back) just became ten times worse. I just need to get it realigned and it will be all right.”
If the injury lingers, you have to wonder if the Panthers might be making a call early this week to Rhys Lloyd.
Also, WR Charly Martin was shaken up early in the first quarter after getting hit while making a tackle on punt coverage. He did not return.