Panthers melt under bright lights vs. Giants

BY foxsports • September 21, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ron Rivera warned Monday the teams that usually play well on Monday and Thursday nights are generally the ones that are used to the prime-time conditions.

The New York Giants, visitors to the Queen City on Thursday night and the defending Super Bowl champions, are well accustomed to the national stage. Rivera's young Carolina Panthers team, not so much.

Those concerns proved real as the Panthers made just about every conceivable mistake a team can in falling, 36-7, at Bank of America Stadium in what many locals hoped would be a break-out party for the franchise and region.

This game was a big deal in the Carolinas. Make no mistake, it was hyped because the Panthers' surge under the second-year coach and his second-year quarterback, Cam Newton, justified the excitement, and for the home folks, their optimism.

Carolina had just dumped Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, so getting Eli Manning and company four nights later presented this franchise an opportunity that doesn't come along very often. The intent was for Carolina to raise its profile and earn a victory that could propel the team onto an eventual spot in the playoffs.

And why not believe that? Newton set a bunch of records a year ago as a rookie and hit the endorsement circuit pretty hard in the off-season. But this was about the Carolina Panthers taking that next step. And they just weren't ready.

"They out-coached us and out-played us," Rivera said. "That's the bottom line. We came out, we didn't execute well."

Carolina's bevy of miscues articulated quite well how disjointed they were.

Newton was intercepted three times, there was a fumbled kickoff that gave the Giants the ball at Carolina's 19-yard-line and a fumbled punt -- both by rookie Joe Adams -- that gave New York possession at Carolina's 19 again. In addition, the usually-elusive Newton was sacked twice and was hurried at least a dozen more times by New York's athletic front line.

Carolina's defensive front couldn't stop a journeyman tailback, the secondary couldn't contain an underachieving wide receiver and, in the end, the Panthers showed their youth and that they have work to do before conquering this stage.

But the team wasn't making excuses, and certainly wasn't going to admit it hasn't arrived.

"They had the same rest we did," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. "We had a great week of practice. We got a lot of mental work in. ... That is pretty common throughout the league. We felt confident and comfortable. If we played like this, we would have gotten beat no matter what day of the week it was."

Rivera said Monday he never liked playing night games during his nine-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears. It messed up his routine too much.

But as a coach, he needs to adapt because with modern scheduling, the better teams are going to play on a lot of different days of the week with a variety of start times. And if the Panthers are to continue their trajectory and achieve their stated mission, they will be on more big stages moving forward.   

This experience should help in that respect.

"One thing we are trying to do is that we are trying to get out of this rut," Rivera said, speaking about the franchise. "We are trying to get away from how things used to be and trying to create a different, as Cam put it, vibe.

"We would love to have that type of vibe that teams like the Giants have and be able to use that energy and use it in a positive way."

Playing on Thursday's stage is the launching point to reaching that goal.