Special teams are special, Panthers prowl past Giants, 33-31

Special teams are special, Panthers prowl past Giants, 33-31
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By David Rogers. October 7, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC — Dramatic endings are rarely scripted so fine as the one crafted by the NFL football gods for the Carolina Panthers’ 33-31 Sunday win over the visiting New York Giants on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

COVER IMAGE: Wide receiver DJ Moore caught all four of his targets for 49 yards, a 12.3 yards per catch average. All photographic images by Brad Batchelor for Blowing Rock News

What a difference one minute makes.  With 1:08 left in the game, folks in the five boroughs of the Big Apple were undoubtedly boogieing in the streets when veteran quarterback Eli Manning found Saquon Barkley coming out of the backfield. The rookie running back hurdled his way 15 yards into the end zone for a game-tying TD that was soon followed by a go-ahead PAT kick courtesy of Aldrick Rosas, giving the New Yorkers a tenuous, 31-30 lead.

Piece of cake.

Panthers QB Cam Newton had some key first downs to extend drives.

But did they leave too much time on the clock? The answer to that question would haunt the Giants’ coaches and players later as the Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton found rookie wide receiver DJ Moore and sophomore “Rennaisance Man” Christian McCaffrey for passes of 20 and nine yards, respectively, to advance the ball to the New York 45 yard line.  Still with 30 seconds left on the clock, the Panthers appeaared to waste precious seconds with no timeouts by running McCaffrey up the middle for one yard and then slowly getting to the line of scrimmage for Newton to spike the ball and stop the clock with 11 seconds remaining. Newton tried one more sideline pass in the general direction of veteran wide receiver Jarius Wright, but the ball sailed high and wide leaving just six seconds on the clock.

Time for one more play.  The biggest question would be whether to put the ball in the hands of your big-armed QB and loft a Hail Mary pass to end zone or put the outcome on the backs of the Panthers special teams and on the foot of placekicker Graham Gano.

That was quite a game.

Devin Funchess (17) grabbed four passes for a team-high 53 yards

Head coach Ron Rivera chose right, opting for Gano and a near-record FG.  As the clock wound down to zero, the 31-year old, 9-year NFL veteran out of Florida State blasted a 63-yard field goal to give the hometown fans the win, the crowd’s joyous sounds reverberating throughout Bank of America Stadium and all the way to Ballantyne and Blowing Rock.

It was a characteristically humble Gano celebration as he first pointed skyward with a single finger, a gesture he has shared with his wife, he said afterward, since high school.

Rookie wide receiver D J Moore (12) showed flashes that reminded Panther fans of why he was a high draft pick.

“That was madness,” Gano described the scene after his big boot, for reporters later. “That’s the only word I can use to explain it. I don’t think it has hit me yet. I was going nuts.

“I think the first thing I saw,” he added, “was Mike (Palardy) reacting that it went in because I couldn’t really see over those giants in front of us.  Not the other team, just our offensive linemen.”

Gano was quick to share the moment with his offensive line.

“I just invited the whole O-line  that blocked for me and (holder) Mike (Palardy) and (long snapper) JJ (Jansen),” Gano recalled. “I wanted them in here as well. Hopefully, they come in for the TVs. Honestly, I can’t do it without them. One misstep here or there could be the difference, so I’m very thankful for those guys and just blessed with the opportunity to be here.”

It is a team game and we need all three phases…today, the special teams did it.

Gano’s near-record field goal (exceeded only by Matt Prater’s 64-yarder for the Denver Broncos on December 8, 2013 against the Tennessee Titans) was not the only special teams highlight. Near the start of the second quarter, the Giants’ punt returner and star wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. mishandled a Mike Palardy punt while trying to field it at his own two-yard line. The loose ball was touched by New York cornerback Janoris Jenkins, but stripped by Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel and recovered in the end zone by Carolina defensive back Colin Jones. It was the second TD of the game for the Panthers.

In the proverbial trenches of football…

When Gano was good on his first field goal of the game, a 47-yarder with 8:44 remaining in the first half, it put the Panthers comfortably ahead, 17-3, and as well as the Carolina defense was playing it looked like the home side was taking control.

Trick or Treat

With Halloween fast upon us, the Giants yet had a few tricks up their sleeves to the horror of the Panthers faithful. Trick plays, when successful, can change a game’s momentum and give a struggling team new life. With a little more than 6:37 remaining in the second quarter, Manning tossed a flare to Beckham on the left side, behind the line of scrimmage. The sometimes controversial, but highly talented wide receiver out of LSU calmly stopped and looked across and downfield, tossing a perfect spiral to Barkley coming out of the backfield and down the right sideline. The rookie out of Penn State almost waltzed, untouched, into the end zone to close the Giants’ Q2 deficit to a manageable 17-10.

Barkley, all alone on the receiving end of the trick play, headed for paydirt.

“That was a big lift for us,” Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said later in describing the play’s impact, “particularly in a tight game and you have something good that happens. It kind of jumpstarts your team and your emotions. It was really well executed by everybody, the way we had it schemed up. The guys blocked it, then the throw and catch.”

The two grid adversaries traded scores the rest of the way, even combining for a stunning five scoring drives in the fourth quarter alone.  The visitors from New York seemed to gain the upperhand when they took their first lead of the game at 31-30 with just over a minute to play, but then watched in disbelief as Gano’s rocket sailed through the uprights. It would have been good from 70 yards.

We played hard. We played tough.

Carolina’s future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers noted to reporters after the game, “It is a team game and we need all three phases, obviously. Sometimes we win on defense. Sometimes the offense has a great game and they win it. But today, special teams won it for us. It’s a great thing because you are going to need those kicks. You are going to need those plays on special teams to win games and today was it.”

Somewhere under that pile is Colin Jones, who fell on the Giants fumble into their own end zone on a punt. Curtis Samuel forced the fumble.

Putting things into perspective, Peppers added, “This is a special win because it is one that we have to stack early. We need as many wins as possible, no matter how you get them and whether you win by one (point) or 20 (points). At the end of the day, the win is why we are here and we got that today. It is unique because every week you never know what’s going to happen. You never know who’s going to be the guy. Today it was Graham (Gano) that came through for us.”

After his Giants fell to 1-4 on the season, Shurmur could be excused for being dejected, but in his remarks after the game, he was anything but morose.

“That was quite a game,” he told reporters. “To play it, (well) there are many things to talk about. I am disappointed for our team (because of) the way we played. We played hard. We played tough. We played the way that I know our team is…and I have no issues with the way (we) play. We’ve still got some things to clean up and play better, but we’ll get (those things) fixed as we go. We’ll deal with the disappointment quickly and then we’ll get right back to work. We have a game on Thursday.”

You have to give them credit…We played a good football team out there.

Rivera was generous in complimenting the Giants during the post-game press conference.

“We played a good football team out there,” he said. “Every time we had the opportunity to put them away, they just kept fighting their way back. We made some mistakes, things that we need to get corrected, but you have to give their football team credit. They have a two-time Super Bowl MVP (at quarterback), and an All-Pro wide receiver. They have a young running back that has some excitement to him. They have a massive offensive line. You have to give them credit.”

And as for whether he was nervous just before Gano’s 63-yard field goal attempt to win the game, Rivera deadpanned, “Piece of cake. Piece of cake. Come on now, you know I don’t change my expressions.”

While the Giants return home to face the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) on Thursday, the Panthers travel to Washington, D.C. next Sunday to take on the NFC East-leading Washington Redskins (2-1), who face the New Orleans Saints on Monday night (Oct. 8).

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