By Paul Dottino
EAST RUTHERFORD – Let the record show that the Giants did exactly what they wanted – and needed – to do in the first regular season game at New Meadowlands Stadium. After a sketchy first half, the Giants scored 17 consecutive second-half points to grab a 31-18 victory over the Carolina Panthers, the team that ruined Big Blue’s Giants Stadium swan song last December.
“It’s a historic first win for the New York Giants franchise here in the brand new stadium. We talked definitely about that,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “There was a lot said going in about this game and about what happened last year and I’m just happy that we could win this game, the first game in this stadium.”
Ok, so here are the Giants’ gameballs and gassers for Week 1:
Offense – WR Hakeem Nicks. He caught three touchdown passes, including two in the first half, among his four receptions for 75 yards. The first two scores – of 26 and 19 yards – came on perfectly thrown tosses that hit Nicks as he ran up the sideline to the left corner of the end zone. Nicks used his height and long reach to haul in his second score over cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to make it 14-9. His third score came on a misdirection, with Manning rolling left and hitting Nicks as he crossed toward the back left corner of the end zone for a 5-yard TD and a 24-16 lead. We’re also going to make Nicks run a few gassers, though, because he ended the Giants’ opening drive of the game with a tipped ball that was intercepted by Charles Godfrey. Nicks also dropped a pass in the second quarter.
Defense – DT Barry Cofield. The Giants had four sacks and three interceptions while Kenny Phillips and Keith Bulluck were able to play four quarters in their first regular season game following knee surgery, so you’re undoubtedly raising your eyebrows over the selection of Cofield. Well, we don’t take the easy way out here – we go inside the game – and Cofield dominated the line of scrimmage on back-to-back plays at a pivotal point in the game. The Giants had just taken a 24-16 lead with 1:45 left in the third quarter when Cofield combined with Chris Canty on a first-down sack at the Carolina 35. On second-and-20, Cofield roared into the backfield and forced a throwaway before the Panthers settled for a meaningless third-and-20 run and punted. The Giants responded with a touchdown drive to take control of the game.
Special teams – PK Lawrence Tynes. Tynes hit a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter, converted all four of his extra points and did a solid job with his kickoffs.
Offense – TE Travis Beckum. The second-year pro has been considered much more of a receiver than a blocker and this game provided several moments of glaring evidence. Beckum was forced into full-time duty after Kevin Boss was knocked out of the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit in the first quarter and Beckum had great difficulty holding the line and sealing the edge.
Defense – OLB Michael Boley. RB Mike Goodson was able to beat him twice on key short passes in Giants’ territory that resulted in second-quarter points. On third-and-6 from the Carolina 40, Goodson caught a 13-yard pass on the right side on a play during which Osi Umenyiora was called for roughing the passer. Four plays later, John Kasay’s 43-yard FG put Carolina up, 9-7. On a first-and-10 from the Giants 32 with 16 seconds left in the half, Goodson caught a 13-yard crossing route, one play before Steve Smith’s TD catch that made it 16-14.
Special teams – P Matt Dodge. He followed his inconsistent preseason with a rough opener. He had poor hang time on his two punts (41 and 45 yards) and appeared to take too long on a fourth-quarter punt that was blocked out of the end zone by Greg Hardy. Coughlin said the other day he didn’t want any mistakes in the punting game. If Dodge is asked to leave, you can’t say he wasn’t warned.