For anyone who was feeling sympathetic for Eli Manning and the injury-riddled Giants heading into last night’s game in Carolina, don’t worry. They’re just fine.
Not that Tom Coughlin is worried about the public perception of his team.
Despite missing four starters (RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Hakeem Nicks, ORT David Diehl, CB Michael Coe) and another key contributor (WR Domenik Hixon) on a short week, the Giants prepared for the Panthers like they would for any other game and did something only two of nine teams accomplished last season: a road victory on three days of rest.
And this wasn’t just a victory. It was a thumping, 37-6 statement from the defending champs, who dominated the Panthers so thoroughly that Giants backup QB David Carr had time to amass a better passer rating than Cam Newton (56.2 to 40.6). Even with the rash of injuries, we should have expected nothing less from an increasingly resilient team with a proven championship pedigree.
Do you really think Manning was worried about missing two of the team’s best offensive weapons? The Giants’ next men up were brilliant from the start: Fourth-year WR Ramses Barden snagged all seven first-half passes thrown his way for 123 yards — including 94 yards in the second quarter, equaling his 2011 total — while third-year RB Andre Brown eclipsed his entire career rushing total in the first half alone. Just as impressive was the confidence with which Manning targeted the unproven Barden, gunning passes down the middle of the Panthers’ zone coverage into tight windows and trusting Barden, just as he would Nicks or Victor Cruz, to keep the ball safe.
The team is even filling holes on the offensive line without skipping a beat. Since Diehl left Week Two’s game against the Buccaneers 11 minutes into the first quarter, the Giants’ line has allowed just two sacks in 81 drop-backs, one of which came in garbage time Thursday with Carr in the game and Manning on the bench.
The seamlessness with which New York replaced its injured starters to eviscerate a talented Panthers squad showed once again why this team is so dangerous. With injuries in the secondary now piling up — in addition to Coe’s absence, top CB Corey Webster broke his right hand and CB Jayron Hosley and S Antrel Rolle left Thursday night with injuries — is there really any reason to doubt the Giants moving forward?
Suddenly, the Giants’ receiving weapons (once everyone is healthy) look terrifying. Nicks and Cruz were already among the league’s best wide receiver duos, while the emergence of Barden and former Cowboys TE Martellus Bennett (185 yards receiving and three TDs in 2012) has obscured the team’s recently drafted talent waiting in the wings in WRs Jerrel Jernigan (third round, 2011) and Rueben Randle (second round, 2012). Likewise, Brown’s emergence, paired with the return of Bradshaw, should extend the Giants’ tradition of dangerous running back committees, even if rookie first-rounder David Wilson (six carries, eight yards and one fumble) continues to make meager contributions.
The team’s depth and consistent approach to each game may very well produce a regular season reminiscent of the last defending-champion Giants’ squad, who fired off to an 11-1 start and cruised to the NFC East title in 2008. Sure, they may produce the occasional head-scratcher (remember the 35-14 Monday-night beatdown at the hands of the lowly Browns in 2008?), but nobody will want to see this team in the playoffs.
Lest we forget that the 2008 season was derailed by Plaxico Burress’s accidental shooting incident, after which New York limped to a 1-4 finish, including a home playoff defeat to the Eagles. With an even deeper team and more confidence than ever in 2012, it would be foolish to expect such a quiet exit again.