The New York Giants took the field for the first time since January's disappointing early exit from the postseason, and the team's running game looked more impressive than ever.
The Giants won the game on a last-second strip of Carolina Panther's rookie quarterback Hunter Cantwell by defensive tackle Leger Douzable and a touchdown return by back up defensive end Tommie Hill.
However, no one was as impressive as third-year running back Ahmad Bradshaw who rushed for 35 yards on five carries, including a 19-yard touchdown. He also had two receptions for 17 yards. Even more impressive than his numbers was the way he ran the ball.
On a counter run to the right in the Giants second possession of the game, Bradshaw seemed to be tripped up after being hit in the legs only to maintain his balance and move forward for four more yards into the end zone, putting New York up 7-0, over the Panthers.
On the Giants' next drive, Bradshaw fought for the first on a first-play dive, dragging four defenders to move the chains—reminiscent of the short rush he had in Super Bowl XLII where he carried New England's defensive end Ty Warren on his back for a few extra yards.
If there was any serious consideration to whether Bradshaw, Danny Ware or rookie running back Andre Brown would take over where recently departed Derrick Ward had left off, Bradshaw certainly made a case for himself to the Giants coaches Monday night.
Another player who impressed despite having no catches was second-year receiver Mario Manningham.
Manningham started the Giants offense with a 21-yard punt return into Carolina territory, and though he was only on the field briefly, every pass play seemed to head his way. He even had a 13-yard reception on a curl route to the left, but it was called back on an illegal formation penalty.
Manningham also had a deep pass thrown into the end zone for him, but wasn't able to reel in the close call with two defenders right on him.
Rookie linebacker Clint Sintim also impressed in his first game. He would finish with three assisted tackles and one forced-fumble sack. What wasn't seen on the stat line was the constant pressure that Sintim was able to get on Carolina's quarterbacks.
Other notable players heading into the game were rookie receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden. Unfortunately for the Giants, neither seemed to stick out as they each only had one reception
Even more troublesome was the performance by the Giants backups on the offensive line. While the starting five up front may be the most solid in the NFL, the backups seemed to struggled virtually on every snap.
Second-year quarterback Andre Woodson was affected the most by this as he went 5 for 11 for 45 yards and one interception, though; his sole interception was thrown during one of the seldom plays where he wasn't being rushed by the defense.
Danny Ware also struggled due to this poor O-line performance, running the ball 12 times for 21 yards and possibly distancing himself behind Bradshaw on the depth chart.
Eli Manning, the $97 million-dollar-man, went two for three putting up 31 yards in his first competitive game since inking one of the top-paying contracts in the NFL.
Fellow starter Brandon Jacobs ran the ball four times also for 31 yards and caught one pass for 13 yards.
And after missing the entire 2008 season, defensive end Osi Umenyiora didn't seem to miss a beat recording two tackles—one being a sack that forced a fumble. Umenyiora looks to be ready to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks with fellow ends Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and the rest of the revamped defensive line in 2009.
If anything, the Giants can take solid performances out of Bradshaw, Manningham and Sintim, and be even happier about not going after Ward heading into the 2009 season.
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