Giants-Panthers ‘things I think’: Giants give ‘rocked up’ crowd something to cheer about

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — Leading up to Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, the New York Giants — most notably defensive coordinator Wink Martindale — implored Giants fans to bring the energy to MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Towel-waving Giants fans did not disappoint as the Giants opened a rare three-game home stand by defeating the Panthers, 19-16, to reach 2-0 for the first time in six years.

The stadium wasn’t full and there was an undercurrent of unhappiness in the third quarter with the offense struggling and the Giants trailing, but for the most part this was an energetic, fired up crowd exhorting the Giants to give them something to believe in after five consecutive double-digit loss seasons and one playoff berth since 2011. There was a palpable energy all day.

When Julian Love sacked Baker Mayfield to force a Carolina punt with 2:06 to play and the Giants clinging to the lead, the stadium rocked like it hasn’t for a long while.

“When that third-down sack happened, it was crazy. The crowd was crazy,” said veteran defensive tackle Justin Ellis, a first-year Giant. “And I was just like, this is New York, you know? So at the end of the game, when we knew it was over, I hugged Coach Wink and said, man, did you see that? And we talked about it. It was so amazing.”

Head coach Brian Daboll could feel the energy when he pulled into the parking lot.

“Fans were great. Just driving over here from the facility looking at all the tailgates and all the beverages and all the games they were playing, they were pretty rocked up,” Daboll said. “They had their jerseys on, some old school ones, new school ones. They were great on third down. They know when to cheer. And that was certainly helpful to have them out there.”

Placekicker Graham Gano said the crowd was “awesome,” and that it was a topic of conversation on the sideline.

“From the first quarter on, we looked around the sidelines and I said to the other guys ‘This is awesome seeing this’. The fans were waiving the towels, bringing the juice and that’s special,” Gano said. “Hopefully, fans will keep coming and doing that and I don’t think they realize how much it really means to us as players having them there and having their support. We couldn’t play this game without them.”

The Giants are 2-0. They have a wounded Dallas Cowboys team coming to MetLife Stadium a week from Monday, then a rebuilding Chicago Bears team that won just six games a year ago.

Do Giants fans starving for good football dare to dream about their team being 4-0? I think that’s getting greedy, but, hey, dream if you want to dream.

Finding ways to win

Bad teams find ways to lose. The Giants have certainly found a number of creative, and ugly, ways to lose games over the past few years. These first two weeks, they have found ways to win 50-50 games that could have gone either way. Their two victories have come by a combined total of four points.

“I’d say whether you score a lot or not, it’s important to figure out a way to win the games. You can win a game in a variety of ways. You can also lose it. Again, the object of the game is to have one more point at the end and to give yourself a chance in the fourth quarter,” Daboll said. “Right now, where we’re at, we’re a young team that’s still developing. We’ve got a long way to go. But I’d say that again, we’re shuffling guys in and out. We’re trying to find the best combinations, but taking care of the ball and getting it goes a long way – tackling well and being able to figure out a way in the fourth quarter when it’s close to grind out those yards you need to put yourself in a chance to win.”

There were a lot of things that happened Sunday for the Giants that weren’t good.

  • They got turnovers in Carolina territory the first two times the Panthers touched the ball, but could only convert them into six points.
  • They averaged only 5.2 yards per passing play and hit just one play of longer than 20 yards. Overall, they averaged a miniscule 3.8 yards per play.
  • They struggled to run the ball, averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt (33 carries, 103 yards). Saquon Barkley had 72 yards on 21 carries, just 3.4 yards per carry.
  • The offensive line had a difficult day, in both run and pass blocking, against a good Carolina front seven.
  • The defense gave up a three-play, 67-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, but otherwise played exceptionally.
  • The Giants lost another key player — defensive lineman Leonard Williams — to injury, but Wink Martindale kept attacking and the defense kept getting stops when it needed to.

“I feel like right now we’re not wavering. We’re scrappy as a group. We get closer when the times get tougher. So that’s what you want at this time of the season, said Ellis. “Everybody’s still trying to figure it out early on. And so I think that’s, that’s what’s good for us right now.”

Wide receiver rotation

When Kadarius Toney played just seven snaps last week, Daboll was adamant that the receivers would compete on a weekly basis for snaps. This week, Kenny Golladay was the odd man out. He got only a couple of snaps when the Giants were in the red zone. Toney, Sterling Shepard (six catches, 34 yards), Richie James (five catches, 51 yards) and David Sills got the bulk of the playing time.

“It’s a continuous competition at receiver. I’ve said it since when? I’m not being a jerk. I’ve said it since the middle of camp, right? It hasn’t changed. It’s going to be a continuous competition,” Daboll said. “Kadarius had opportunities today, and we’ll see what it is next week: maybe it’s (wide receiver Darius) Slayton, maybe it’s more KG. We’ll see where we go with that. But I think that position, we’re just going to keep on rolling guys and play the guys that week that we think would give us the best chance.”

Daboll said he told Golladay during the week that Sills would start in his place, and that the veteran handled that news “like a pro.”

I think it’s outstanding that Daboll and the Giants aren’t simply looking at Golladay’s paycheck or his resume and thinking ‘he has to play.’ That is, admittedly, easier when the current GM isn’t the one who signed him to that four-year, $72 million deal.

This, though, is going to be an interesting situation to watch.

Good Graham

I think the Giants are really lucky to have Gano.

Gano went 4 of 4 on field goals Sunday, with a game-winner from 56 yards, a 51-yarder and pedestrian kicks of 33 and 36 yards.

The 56-yarder was longer than the Giants had planned to let Gano kick from, but Daboll trusted his eyes and his 13-year veteran kicker.

“It was probably a little bit past the line that we set going into the game, by about a yard and a half. I just told T-Mac that he was kicking it well, he kicked the other one [51 yards] well,” Daboll said. “I looked at Graham, he’s done a lot in practice. I know he’s played a lot in this league. And again, we’d like to be closer to him. But that’s his job as a kicker, and as a snapper and as a holder to execute those plays when they’re needed the most. A lot of times it’s under pressure. And the three of those guys along with the field goal protection unit did a good job.”

Gano has now made 64 of 69 field goals (92.7 percent) as a Giant, including 14 of 18 from beyond 50 yards.

Holder Jamie Gillan had no doubt about the 56-yard attempt.

“Graham’s what, year 13 now. He’s got a big leg, he does it all in practice. I love Graham. He is such a pro as far as kicking,” Gillan said. “Kicking is an art and he day in day out it’s the same ball strike every day. It’s amazing to watch. I have everybody has full confidence in him.”

Now the Giants will hold their breath

Leonard Williams is one of their best, and most important, players. In the category of ‘players the Giants simply cannot lose,’ Williams is right at the top. He plays more snaps than any Giants defensive linemen, and is always among the defensive line league leaders in snaps played, and impacts both the run and the pass from a variety of alignments.

The Giants have no one else who can do what he does.

Williams’ teammates were sounding optimistic about the extent of his injury after the game, but that doesn’t mean Williams won’t miss time.

The Giants will anxiously await the test results on Williams’ knee.

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