If history has any bearing, the New York Giants have nothing to worry about regarding their 0-2 start to the season.
The Giants are in familiar territory with their winless mark and last started 0-2 in 2007, when they won the next six games and ended up knocking off an 18-0 New England Patriots squad to win Super Bowl XLII.
New York is hoping that run starts Sunday on the road against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The Giants started the season with a 36-31 loss to the rival Dallas Cowboys and committed six turnovers. In last Sunday's Manning Bowl III, big brother Peyton handed his little brother, Eli, a 41-23 loss and the New York defense allowed 31 points to Denver in the second half.
Eli Manning still has hope the Giants will turn it around.
"I think we have hope just because I feel like we're doing some decent things. We've got to get better, but I think we will," Manning said. "I think we have great character guys. The season is very early. All you can worry about is this next game. We've got to go to Carolina. They've played a couple of close games. They seem to be playing good defense, so we've got to go in there and play better football and find a way to get a win."
Manning needs to limit the interceptions and has been picked off seven times already, including a four-pick performance last week versus the Broncos. Manning, who threw for 450 yards against Dallas, has thrown for 812 yards in the first two games, the highest two-game total of his career. He has the weapons for an aerial assault and four receivers already have more than 100 yards with Victor Cruz leading the way with 236 yards and three touchdowns.
The Giants will try to pass their way to victory Sunday against the Panthers since the running game hasn't produced much in two games. It's still early, but there's already controversy in the backfield with Brandon Jacobs back with his former team and David Wilson struggling to hold on to the ball and produce on the ground. Jacobs had a touchdown in his first game back, while Wilson leads the team with just 36 rushing yards.
"We've got to get the running game, we've got to be more balanced and I think that will help things out," Manning said.
New York, which ranks first in the NFL by netting 390.5 passing yards per game and is last in rushing, is playing three of its first four games on the road.
As Manning previously stated, the Panthers have suffered close losses to start the season and could easily be 2-0. It was an offensive struggle in a 12-7 loss in Week 1 versus Seattle and Carolina dropped a 24-23 decision Sunday against Buffalo.
The Panthers' defense watched Bills rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel engineer a nine-play, 80-yard drove, which was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson. The Panthers have struggled on defense this season and are allowing 109.5 rushing yards, 293.5 passing yards and 403.0 total yards. The secondary has been nicked up, so the Panthers brought back veteran cornerback Drayton Florence.
Florence was released in the team's final roster cutdown, but now is back and ready to play against the Giants. When Carolina signed him in March, Panthers GM Dave Gettleman was excited.
"He still has his speed, he's still explosive. He's a heavy-hitter when he tackles and he has the skills we were looking for," said Gettleman, a longtime Giants director of pro personnel. "He's a mature guy and he's going to help our young defensive backs learn."
Florence will have a chance to prove he's still worthy of a roster spot and has a tough challenge ahead against Manning and the New York pass attack. Panthers safety Quintin Mikell has been bothered by an ankle injury and Mike Mitchell will move from strong to free safety. Mitchell will make his first start for the Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera has confidence in him.
"The hard thing is we are going to move him from strong to free. We'll see how it unfolds. It was good to see him take the lead like he did," Rivera said of Mitchell. "This may be one of those things where a guy gets an opportunity, the door is cracked a little bit, and he steps all the way in. I've got a lot of faith that he's going to get it done."
Rivera has no other options to move Mitchell after Charles Godfrey was lost for the season with an injured right Achilles sustained against the Bills. Godfrey is the leader of the secondary and his intelligence and tactics will be sorely missed. Godfrey moved from strong to free safety for the final three games in 2012 and seemed comfortable in his new role. Injuries on Sunday to defensive backs Josh Norman and D.J. Moore do not appear to be serious, and a depleted secondary is not what the Panthers want right now with Cruz and Nicks coming to town.
"The other guys have to step up ... the guys that are clear-cut starters. Playmakers have to make plays," Rivera said. "If we're starting two new DBs, the other nine guys have got to step up. Our defensive line and front seven have to play well to give us an opportunity."
Carolina's defense has produced three sacks in the first two games and Godfrey had one them. Sack master Charles Johnson has one as well and he's the Panthers' best option up front. Johnson must get to Manning on Sunday to give his defense a chance, otherwise it will be a long afternoon. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis lead the Panthers in tackles with 23 and 20 stops, respectively, and shouldn't struggle too much against New York's run game.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is impressed with Rivera's defense.
"They really haven't given up many points. They're a very, very stingy defensive team, a good defensive team with a very good front," Coughlin said. "Linebackers are very, very active and obviously good tacklers."
Coughlin is half right. The Panthers can tackle, but have struggled in stopping opposing teams from compiling yardage. Seattle racked up 370 yards in Week 1 and Buffalo tacked on 436 more last Sunday.
Coughlin is 6-1 (0-1 playoffs) in games against Carolina, which hasn't started 0-3 since losing five in a row to start the 2010 campaign. New York hasn't dropped three straight to start a season since 1996 and handed the Panthers a 36-7 beating last Sept. 20. The Giants are 4-3 against the Panthers in the regular season and the two teams met once in the playoffs back in 2005, when the Panthers posted a 23-0 win.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will be New York's main focus on Sunday. The dual threat didn't have a great day passing wise in Week 1, as he threw for 125 yards and a touchdown and ran for 38 yards. With his ability to kill defenses with his feet and arm, the Giants have to be ready.
"Honestly, we have to stop beating ourselves," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "We have a lot of opportunities in these first three games to kind of rewrite what this 0-2 is, the reality of this 0-2. We have to stop beating ourselves. We had a lot of opportunity to win both of these football games and didn't do it."
Newton, who reached 8,000 career passing yards in Week 1, had just 15 yards rushing last Sunday, but played better under center by completing 21-of-38 passes for 229 yards, two TDs and an interception. He will be helped by running back DeAngelo Williams, who has rushed for more than 80 yards in each of the first two games. He has no touchdowns to show for it and can pose as a formidable threat to New York's defense, which is allowing 97.0 rushing yards per game.
Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith extended his team-record consecutive games with a reception streak to 93. The streak began in the 2006 season finale at New Orleans and will continue Sunday. The veteran Smith is Newton's best deep threat and most reliable receiver on the squad.
The Giants have to stop Newton before anything else, so that means getting in his face and disrupting timing patterns. They registered two sacks, an interception and five passes defensed on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, then failed to wreak havoc on Peyton Manning, who wasn't sacked and did not throw an interception. New York did have three tipped passes, however.
"I don't think a lot of people understand the work as a pass rusher," Tuck said. "Everything kind of has to work on your favor if you're a good pass rusher. You can have great rushes and if your secondary isn't in line, the quarterback is going to get rid of the ball. Obviously there's times where the secondary makes them hold the ball, but you don't even have a good pass rush so it works hand in hand in that, too. For some reason, we haven't had the opportunities."
No time is better than now for the Giants to have a good pass rush. Luckily for the unit, there aren't any major injuries on that side of the ball.
The Giants must limit turnovers and try to get some sort of running game in order to keep Carolina off balance. It's too early to panic and the Giants have been in this situation before. They have a great opportunity in front of them, especially Manning, who can take advantage of a depleted secondary.
Mitchell hopes this will be the week Carolina's defensive backfield jells.
"There's no doubt about it. We've got to win," Mitchell said. "Every game is like that, but especially going into this game we've got to get the ship right and we've got to get it right now."
Unfortunately the Panthers have too many holes on defense and Manning is too good to let a few fresh-faced defenders get the best of him.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 23, Panthers 16