Just nine months ago, the Carolina Panthers traveled to the former home of the New York Giants and were the last opponents the Giants would ever see in their old home. Not only did the Panthers close out the Giants' old stadium in stunning fashion, after demoralizing the Giants 41-9, the Panthers also killed any postseason hopes the Giants had. Quite frankly, the Panthers victory over the Giants hurt and left a mark.
It was bad enough for the Giants to lose their last home game, but for the Panthers to do it so emphatically and in record breaking style was simply the kind of thing that left the Giants organization embarrassed. The Panthers power running back, Jonathan Stewart, set a record after posting 206 rushing yards on the Giants defense.
Needless to say the Giants remember the loss and want to exorcise that loss from their memory banks. On the other side of the coin the Panthers fondly remember the win. The Panthers also remembered the formula used to make it happen.
The formula for the Panthers' victory was simple and remains the same for the team who wants to win this season's opener. What does either team have to do in order to win the 2010 season opener? The team who plays the most mistake free football will have a huge advantage when the clock hits all zeros in the fourth quarter.
In last season's meeting the Panthers took over from the Giants after a first quarter fumble and went on a 15-play, 61-yard, time consuming drive and kicked a field goal to start the day's scoring. By the second quarter the Panthers got their scoring wheels under them.
The Panthers went on drives of 63, 5,1 and 29 yards and all three drives resulted in touchdowns. The Panthers offense protected the ball as there were no turnovers committed.
The Panthers defense was just as stingy and held the Giants running attack to a meager 60 yard total yards of rushing. The Panthers pass defense was almost as good as they intercepted Eli Manning two times and took away two fumbles. The only scores the Panthers defense gave up was a third quarter, 59-yard field goal and a meaningless fourth quarter touchdown.
While the Panthers offense is basically the same unit that started during last year's 41-9 win, the Panthers will have their No. 1 running back in uniform and ready to play. DeAngelo Williams will start Sunday's game as he shares running duties with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson.
The Panthers' young veteran wide receiver, Dwayne Jarrett, and a cadre of rookie receivers will attempt to establish who is the most capable wideout to replace the void left after Muhsin Muhammad retired during the offseason. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith will get the starting nod as the team's No. 1 playmaker Sunday, after rehabbing a broken arm during training camp.
The Panther defense is a different version than the defense that appeared in New York last season. Gone, except for Tyler Brayton, is the starting defensive line the Giants saw last season. After losing linebacker Thomas Davis to a knee injury, again, the Panthers have had to re-shuffle the rest of their linebacking lineup in order to get all bases covered.
The new face in the unit will be former Penn State standout, Dan Connor. Connor is taking over for Jon Beason at the middle linebacker slot as Beason is stepping to the outside to take the place of Thomas Davis. The other change in the linebacking unit is the addition of James Anderson, who will be replacing Na'il Diggs.
There is precious little depth in the Panthers linebacking unit. The group, as a whole, are very good, but they must stay healthy. The biggest absence on the Panthers defense and the whole team for that matter is the fact that No. 90 or Julius Peppers is no longer the Panthers starting defensive end. Peppers left the Panthers for a shot to play in the "windy city."
However, if the preseason means anything at all, the Panthers should have little to no drop-off in getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The Panthers defensive coordinator, Ron Meeks, helped mold two undersized defensive ends named Freeney and Mathis into quite possibly the most feared pair of defensive ends in the NFL. Meeks now has Everette Brown and Charles Johnson in his wheelhouse as both of them are almost identical in size to Mathis and Freeney.
The Panthers will also have starting defensive end Tyler Brayton coming off of an ankle injury, but waiting in the wings is the Panthers' recent sixth round draft pick, defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy was projected by some to have a real shot at being the No. 1 overall draft pick had he entered the draft following his junior year in 2009 at Ole Miss instead of returning for his senior year.
Hardy did return for his senior season and was hurt early and dealt with injuries almost all season. However, during the preseason, Hardy looked every bit the part of the first round pick he possibly could have been. His presence gives the Panthers a depth they are not accustomed to having at the defensive end's position.
Finally, if the Panthers can keep the pressure on Eli Manning and cut off his "dump off" options by keeping the tight ends and running backs in check, they may have a real chance at making this season's opening day contest an interesting game. The Panthers can not afford to allow the Giants running or passing game to get an early start.
This Panthers team is not built to play from behind. They are primarily a "grind it out," "run first, second, and maybe even third" team who will play "field position" football all day and try to win a game by a late field goal. The Panthers are the type of team who will be right at home with a 15-10 victory.