EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers have a nasty habit of spoiling high-profile games for the New York Giants.
When New York got to the playoffs in 2005 for the first time under Tom Coughlin, the Panthers came north and made them looking ordinary in a 23-0 shutout.
And just nine months ago, Carolina ruined New York’s final game in Giants Stadium and knocked them out of the playoff race in the process with an embarrassing 41-9 win on Dec. 27.
The Panthers will get another shot at playing the spoiler role Sunday when they face New York in the Giants’ first regular-season NFL game at their new $1.6 billion stadium.
The Jets, who co-own the 82,500 seat stadium that already has been chosen to site for the Super Bowl in 2014, will have their opener here against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
“A win period sets the tone,” said Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for 1,117 last season. “This will be a big game. The way we finished out last year against this team, and to open up a new stadium against this team, they haven’t forgotten what happened to them last year.
“They were fighting for a playoff berth and we kind of came in and spoiled it for them a little bit,” Williams added. “I know they haven’t forgotten what we did to them physically and mentally. I know they’re going to be prepared. We’ve just got to be prepared for what they’re going to bring to the table.”
The Giants are well aware of the recent history this game carries with it.
“They beat our butts,” place-kicker Lawrence Tynes said. “For the guys that were here, the coaches and organization, this one is pretty important. The way we finished last year was unacceptable. I don’t get to do a lot of physical stuff, but I am sure that a lot of the guys are planning to play that way.”
Both teams have a lot to prove this season. After winning their divisions in 2008 with 12-4 records, the Giants and Panthers each slipped to 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs.
The Giants started out with five straight wins in 2009 and lost eight of their final 11. Carolina went the other way, losing its first three while finishing with four wins in five games.
The Panthers have undergone major changes. Quarterback Jake Delhomme and defensive end Julius Peppers are playing elsewhere in a shakeup that has seen Carolina emerge as the league’s youngest team.
Matt Moore, who was at the helm in the late surge, has taken over as quarterback for an offense that relies on the running of Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who gained 1,133 rushing, including a career-best 206 vs. New York last year.
The Giants changes have been mainly on defense, where former Bills interim coach Perry Fewell took over as coordinator. The unit was bolstered by the free-agent signings of safeties Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant and linebacker Keith Bulluck. The return of safety Kenny Phillips following major knee surgery also has been a boost to a unit.
“For us this is just business as usual,” said defensive captain Justin Tuck. “We can’t have revenge on our minds. A lot of times when you are thinking of that you are so uptight you don’t play your game. We just need to relax and go play football.”
The Giants did beat the Panthers here late in the 2008 season to nail down home-field advantage for the playoffs.
This time around, the concern for Carolina is its offense. The group failed to score a touchdown in the preseason and Moore completed only 56 percent of his passes.
Veteran Steve Smith, who broke his left arm in last year’s game against the Giants and broke it again playing flag football in June, isn’t concerned.
“It’s mistakes, just leaving plays on the field,” the four-time Pro Bowler said. “We’ve had dropped balls, overthrown balls, missed routes. I just think errors, and I think that’s what the preseason is there for, to make those errors so you can have them corrected once the season starts.”
Despite losing Peppers to free agency, the Panthers had 19 sacks in four preseason games.
“I like the way we’ve grown through the preseason,” said Fox, who is in the final year of his contract. “I think we’re a young football team. In particular there are some guys that have not seen a lot of playing time for us, albeit they’ve been with us. I’ve liked their progress as we prepare for the season opener.”
The strength of the Giants is their offense. Eli Manning had a career year, throwing for 4,021 yards and 27 touchdowns and receiver Steve Smith set franchise record with 107 catches in 2009. The biggest change will be Ahmad Bradshaw replacing Brandon Jacobs as the No. 1 running back, although Jacobs will play some because the Giants alternate their backs.
Manning downplayed last year’s game.
“I look at it as a new season,” said the seven-year veteran who has started 87 straight games. “It is the first game and we want to get off to a fast start and go out there and play well. They are a good team. They do some good stuff. It is just a matter of execution with these guys. We want to open up the new stadium the right way and go out there and try to get a win.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.