By Ernie Palladino
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“Next man up” indeed.

The Giants put up 158 yards of offense and 10 points in the first quarter in the 36-7 win over the Panthers Thursday night. But the real story here was how a couple of young players embodied the NFL’s universal “next man up” injury philosophy.

Between running back Andre Brown and wide receiver Ramses Barden, two players beset by injuries their first years in blue, the Giants got off to a much-needed fast start whose emotional effect carried over to a defense that had given up a ton of yardage the first two games.

How fast was that start? By halftime, the Giants were up 20-0, having scored a touchdown on their first possession and at least a field goal on all but their last, after Jayron Hosley’s interception with 1:25 left in the half.

Start with Brown. Once buried on the depth chart behind Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson, the 227-pound former fourth-round pick has officially given Tom Coughlin the privilege of a worry-free period as he awaits the return of Bradshaw from last week’s neck injury.

If Thursday’s two-touchdown effort was any indication, Bradshaw can take all the time he needs. Not only have the Giants found a second running back, at the least, but they may have found their new Brandon Jacobs, and a healthier, hungrier one at that.

Sure, Brown is lighter by, oh, 40 pounds. But he runs just as tough. Sticks a hand in the face as he runs by. Meets a pileup in front of him and squirts through for a big gain. Sees a hole quickly and uses his blockers to get downfield for a jarring meeting with a defensive back.

He did all that in compiling 96 of his 113 yards on 13 first-half carries, proving himself worthy in those 30 minutes of Coughlin throwing out the old backfield pecking order and give him more field time.

Now to Barden, a rather invisible entity even when he did get on the field the first two games. He’s looked listless and useless, but while subbing for the injured Hakeem Nicks, he strung together seven catches for a 100-yard half. He finished with nine catches for a career-high 138 yards.

Once Nicks and Domenik Hixon return from their foot and concussion problems, Barden will return to decoy duty, certainly. But for one night, at least, he played big with the big boys.

The running game was alive. The passing game was alive. Eli Manning carved up the Panthers to the tune of 27-of-35 for 288 yards and a touchdown. It helped that Panthers coach Ron Rivera left his secondary back at the Carolina training facility. But Manning still made the throws, and Barden was there to catch them. And Brown opened it all up with the running game behind another makeshift unit, the offensive line, which played without veteran David Diehl and kept Manning’s uniform clean.

The Giants are 2-1 now, with a bright 10 days coming up before they head down Oct. 30 for a night game in Philadelphia. They can heal their many wounds, Antrel Rolle included now.

They can get better.

And the play of Brown and Barden, two nonentities at the start of the season, helped them get to that advantageous point Thursday night.

Barden will certainly be next week’s fantasy football waiver darling. But should he be? Let us know in the comments below…


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