Giants 27 – Panthers 21
by Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Game Overview: It always feels good to win, even in the preseason and especially against one of the better teams in the league. However, this was not a “feel good” win for the Giants or their fans for a couple of obvious reasons.
First, the injuries to QB Eli Manning (sprained right elbow) and CB Will Peterson (sprained MCL) put a damper on things. The inexperienced Manning will now miss valuable practice and preseason reps in anticipation of the upcoming season. And we don’t know if this injury will linger into the 2005 regular season. We also don’t know when Peterson will be back or how hampered he will be.
Second, the first team offensive and defensive lines for Carolina controlled the line of scrimmage. And when you lose the battle on both sides of the ball up front, you usually will lose 9-out-10 times. The reason the Giants did not was because they won the turnover battle (6-to-2).
Still there were a number of positives. There were far fewer penalties (4). The special teams probably played its most complete game in years and was a big factor in the victory. QB Eli Manning showed some resiliency in throwing a long-touchdown throw immediately after his turnover touchdown. The big plays in the passing game were encouraging. Defensively, the turnovers obviously stand out. And a number of the reserves impressed on both sides of the ball.
Offensive Line: It is hard to judge the run blocking of the first-team unit because the Giants only ran the ball seven times in the first half. Seven. Obviously the Giants were more interested in working on the passing game (plus the short possession times on most of the drives did not help). When New York did run those few times, the results were not bad at all: gains of 5, 3, 7, -1, 4, 6, and 7 yards (4.4 yards per run). The Giants got a nice push up front. I think my favorite play was watching RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee block at the point-of-attack and then having LG David Diehl pull to his right up into the hole. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this become a bread-and-butter play for the G-Men.
The problem was when the Giants passed the ball. The four times Eli Manning was given time to throw, he was 3-of-4 for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The incomplete pass was dropped. On his other seven pass attempts, he was under pressure (though one of these may have been due to the fact that he drifted too far back out of the pocket). None of these other seven pass attempts were completed. The culprits? On some plays it is hard to say. On the Giants’ first passing play, the Giants faked a run to left while having Eli run a boot to the right. However, the left end on the play (who was actually DT Brentson Buckner) did not bite on the fake and was immediately in Manning’s face. I don’t believe McKenzie was supposed to block Buckner on the play because he ignored him (if he was supposed to, I don’t know what he was thinking). On the second failed pass, Manning was sacked for a 16-loss when Snee badly missed his block on DT Kris Jenkins. Manning had no chance on this play. On the third play, McKenzie failed to pick up the blitzing corner and Manning had to throw prematurely. Two plays later, Shockey could not block DE Julius Peppers one-on-one (for some reason, McKenzie helped Snee block the tackle on this play; was that the protection scheme or the fault of McKenzie?) and LT Luke Petitgout was overpowered by DE Mike Rucker (Petitgout was flagged with illegal hands to the face as well). The result was yet another incompletion. On the fifth failed pass, I think Manning dropped too far back beyond the pocket and created his own pass pressure by doing so. The sixth play was the one were McKenzie got beat to the outside by Peppers. The ball was stripped out of Manning’s hand and returned for a touchdown. Manning was also injured on this play. On the final failed pass attempt, McKenzie once again was unable to pick up a blitz and a bad throw to Shockey resulted. Seven breakdowns in pass protection…one occurred because the Panthers did not bite on the fake, another because the quarterback did not stay in the pocket. McKenzie was responsible for three other pressures (including a sack), Snee a big sack, and Petitgout a pressure. Not good. Kudos to David Diehl for playing a strong game.
The second team offensive line played well and controlled the line of scrimmage. When was the last time you could say that about the back-up offensive line for the Giants in a preseason game? It was the same line-up as last week: RT Brandon Winey, RG Lewis Kelly, OC Jason Whittle, LG Rich Seubert, and LT Bob Whitfield. The only player of this group that I am leery about is Kelly. He did not look good when pulling or blocking for a screen pass. To be fair, he was much improved in pass protection this week. Brandon Winey has played better in pass protection. He failed to spot/pick-up a blitz coming from his side of the field and instead helped out Kelly when he did not have to, resulting in QB Tim Hasselbeck having to scramble out of bounds for a 1-yard loss. Later, Winey helped out Kelly again as the left end sped around TE Chris Luzar. In the 4th quarter, there was clearly miscommunication between Winey and HB Brandon Jacobs as both abandoned an at-first blocked blitzer, leading to a sack. Winey was equally as clueless on the attempted screen pass.
But for the most part, the pass protection was strong when Hasselbeck was in the game and the Giants ran the football pretty effectively. The third teamers saw some action very late, but I don’t think any of these guys has a chance. In addition, with OC/OG Wayne Lucier back at practice now, Kelly is probably very vulnerable.
Tight Ends: In the blocking department, it was a mixed bag for Jeremy Shockey. But he also drew some very tough assignments. On the only running play the Giants ran in the first half that lost yardage, Shockey was manhandled by DE Mike Rucker, disrupting the entire play. But later in the second quarter, Shockey got a good block on a HB Mike Cloud 6-yard gain around left end (Diehl got a good block on this play on a pull too). Shockey was also asked to block Julius Peppers one-on-one on a passing play and was unable to do so. The result was an incompletion. In the passing game, Shockey made an excellent, leaping grab of a high Manning pass for 19-yards and a first down on 2nd-and-15.
We saw some feistiness from Visanthe Shiancoe this week as he got into a shoving match with Rucker after one play. I like that. He also came to Shockey’s aid when Rucker starting jawing at Jeremy on another play. In the second half, on the Giants’ first drive, Shiancoe got a good block on a 7-yard carry off left tackle, but then he was flagged with a dumb holding penalty away from the ball on another running play. Later in the 3rd quarter, he made a good block on a 12-yard gain, but then uncharacteristically missed a block on a run near the start of the 4th quarter. On the very next play, Hasselbeck hooked up with Shank for a 9-yard completion on 3rd-and-8, keeping the touchdown-scoring drive alive. Right after that, Shiancoe got deep down the middle of the field for a big 34-yard completion. This is the most impressive Shiancoe has played as a receiver since he has been a Giant.
Things did not start off well for Chris Luzar again in the blocking department. On the second offensive play of the 3rd quarter, he missed his block on a running play. On a later possession, the defensive end had no problem blowing past him en route to pressuring Hasselbeck into an incompletion. However, I did spot him making two good run blocks after these two snafus.
Quarterback: Manning only completed three passes, but only really had time to throw on four attempts (the one incomplete where he had time was a dropped pass). I’ve seen some criticism of his pocket presence by fans after the game, but it is tough to be comfortable in the pocket if the pocket is consistently crumbling around you and the Giants did not do a good job of protecting him. With time, Manning did a good job of finding WR David Tyree on 3rd-and-5 for the first down (Tyree broke this play for a long touchdown). On the Giants’ next possession, Eli threw a strike to Shockey down the seam that was on the high side, but Shockey was able to come down with the reception. I do think Manning drifted too far back out of the pocket on one play, thus causing his own pass pressure. But two plays later, despite what Manning has since said, I didn’t think there was a pocket to step up into when Peppers stripped him of the ball. Peppers was on him too quickly and Rucker was angling in from the other side.
What impressed me the most about Manning – and to me this the most impressive thing he has done in a Giants’ uniform to date – is his resiliency in coming right back after the turnover touchdown and throwing a perfect deep strike to WR Amani Toomer for the touchdown. That really showed me something.
Tim Hasselbeck played well. He showed some good mobility the few times pass protection broke down, and did a good job of finding the open receiver when given time (though he did try to force one ball into a well-covered Shiancoe on one play). Hasselbeck does not have the arm to throw the deep-out pass consistently well and this will limit his game and make it easier for teams to defend against him. But he did make some nice throws down the field. Hasselbeck found Tyree for 23-yards over the middle on 2nd-and-20. He later just missed Tyree on a fly pattern near the end zone. His most impressive work was on the touchdown drive that put the Giants up 27-14. On 3rd-and-8, he hit Shiancoe for 9 yards and the first down. On the very next play, he threw a perfect strike to Shiancoe down the deep middle of the field for 34 yards. The drive culminated with a Hasselbeck-to-WR Tim Carter touchdown throw in the back of the end zone.
Jared Lorenzen did not get much of a chance to show his wares. His first pass was dropped and he was sacked on his next opportunity. On the next possession, he threw a quick pass to WR Michael Jennings for 4 yards. But on 3rd-and-4, the pass protection completely broke down and he was sacked again.
Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress did not have a catch and dropped what would have been a first down on 3rd-and-3 late in the first half. Amani Toomer ran a great route and showed good concentration on his 41-yard touchdown reception on a post pattern. It’s nice to see that he can still get deep.
David Tyree may have won the third receiver job with his 2 catch, 113-yard performance. On the Giants’ third offensive play of the game, Tyree turned a short 3rd-and-5 completion into a 90-yard touchdown play by breaking a tackle and running quickly down the right sideline. Indeed, I was taken aback at how fast Tyree looked on the play. In the second half, Tyree made some excellent run-after-the-catch moves on a 23-yard pass completion over the middle on 2nd-and-20. I did spot Tyree blowing one run block however.
Tim Carter caught 3 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. It was nice to see him get some work. He had a big 19-yard completion on 3rd-and-8 as well as a 6-yard touchdown pass to put the Giants up by 13 points in the 4th quarter.
Willie Ponder (no catches) needs to work on his run blocking. Michael Jennings caught one short pass for 4 yards. Ataveus Cash was flagged with a holding penalty that brought back an impressive 8-yard run by HB Brandon Jacobs.
Running Backs: Not much to write about in the first half. Barber carried the ball twice for eight yards. Mike Cloud carried the ball five times for 23 yards, including a couple of 7-yard draw plays.
Derrick Ward (7 carries for 29 yards) saw extended playing time in the 3rd quarter. This was the first time that Giants’ fans have ever seen Ward carry the football as a halfback as a Giant in a football game. I liked what I saw. Ward is a big back with good speed for his size. He has some cutback ability in his game as well. Ward demonstrated good power on his first carry of the night. His longest carry was a 12-yarder where he cut back against the grain of the defense. He did not get a good enough block on impressive rookie LB/S Thomas Davis of the Panthers on one passing play where Hasselbeck’s arm was hit. Had this been an accurate pass, a touchdown to Visanthe Shiancoe might have resulted.
Brandon Jacobs came into the game after Cloud and Ward. Jacobs (9 carries for 38 yards) is simply a stud. Stealing John Riggins’ old nickname, I’ve started to call him “The Diesel”. There are rookies and then there are the few, rare new entrants to the league who seem like they just belong. Jeremy Shockey was like that. Brandon Jacobs is like that. His first carry was a 3-yard run up the gut on 3rd-and-1. The play was not particularly well-blocked, but “The Diesel” didn’t care. Later in the 4th quarter (his first extended playing time), Jacobs demonstrated his speed by turning the corner on a left-side run that was not well-blocked either. The result was a 14-yard gain. Two plays later, an unblocked corner foolishly tried to bring him down; Jacobs just ran right threw the attempted ankle tackle en route to a 7-yard gain. My favorite run of the night was an 8-yarder that was called back due to a penalty on Cash. Jacobs showed very quick feet in avoiding tackles and bouncing a play to the outside. As he reached the sideline, a Panther tried to make a statement by smashing into Jacobs high. Jacobs just shook off the big hit like the guy was a bug (this run got Rich Seubert really pumped up as he shoved Jacobs hard after the play in celebration). The bad news? Jacobs really needs to work on his pass blocking. This (and Tiki Barber) is what will keep him off the football field. As I mentioned above, Jacobs and Winey miscommunicated on a blitz and left free an at-first blocked linebacker, resulting in a sack of Lorenzen. When Lorenzen was sacked a second time, it was a jail break behind the third-string offensive line, but I also didn’t care for the block Jacobs got on the blitzer. A big guy like Brandon should level a blitzer.
Ryan Grant dropped a pass from Lorenzen.
Comments on the Defense: While the Giants did blitz some in this game, the defense played it mostly straight up on passing downs. The Giants usually only rushed the down four, and later in the second quarter, they actually only rushed three players on a few plays. The defense the Giants will run during the regular season will be different.
Also, the Panthers did a good job of alternating between the short passing game and the run to cross up the Giants. I hate to sound like an excuse-mongering fan, but it appeared to these eyes that the Panthers really did game-plan for this contest. I don’t think the Giants did. Early on in the game, I noticed that when the Panthers went with 3-WR’s and the Giants would counter with the nickel, they would run the ball. When the Giants would not, they would pass. This created some mismatches.
A big problem remains the inability of the Giants to get off the field on 3rd down. The Panthers successfully converted on seven 3rd down attempts in the first half alone.
Defensive Line: The Giants were not real stout against the run and they did not generate much of a pass rush. The Panthers ran almost exclusively to their left in the direction of DE Osi Umenyiora, who had problems at the point-of-attack. Umenyiora also badly missed a tackle on a running play when he dropped back into coverage. In addition, he got suckered on misdirection toss to his side on 3rd-and-3 for a 7-yard gain and a first down (this was the type of play that Osi used to get burned on as a rookie). Umenyiora did make a couple of nice plays against the run (and he certainly hits hard), but it wasn’t enough. In terms of his pass rush, Osi demonstrated an explosive outside rush, but too often he was pushed wide of the pocket. Still, he did generate some heat and right now looks like the Giants most consistent pass rusher. There was also a very interesting formation in the 2nd quarter where the Giants had Umenyiora and DE Justin Tuck line up at tackle, with DT’s William Joseph and Kendrick Clancy at defensive end. Then both the ends and the tackles stunted. The formation was pretty successful as both Umenyiora and Tuck exerted pressure on Jake Delhomme (and Tuck actually hit him pretty hard – no wuss play this week).
DE Michael Strahan only played the first series. He didn’t exert much of a pass rush and the Panthers ran away from his side.
Justin Tuck played a lot and did not seem to wear down at all. Tuck played a lot better this week against the run. A lot better. He still got pushed back some, but he fought hard to get off the block and a few times got past his opponent to get in on the tackle. He’s improving. And although Tuck admittedly was in the wrong place on his interception when dropping into coverage, he certainly looked naturally athletic on the play with quick reaction skills. That’s not a play a normal defensive end makes. Tuck got two good pass rushes in the first half against the starters.
For whatever reason, starting defensive tackles William Joseph and Kendrick Clancy played virtually the entire first half, even after it was clear that they were a bit tired after the long, sustained Panther drives. Perhaps Coughlin was testing their stamina. Still I find it somewhat unusual that Damane Duckett and Kenderick Allen were not rotated into the line-up.
Joseph was not as strong this week. He did not play terribly, but he was not real stout at the point-of-attack (except for one play where he and Clancy really stuffed the back at the line of scrimmage). Part of the problem may have been the scheme – I am not sure. There were a few plays where Joseph would take an immediate hard slant to one side, thereby creating a natural gap in the defense for the back to run through. I am not sure I understand the point of this tactic, especially against a strong running team like the Panthers. Joseph was not much of a factor on the pass rush.
Clancy is not a big guy and can get pushed around some at times, but he doesn’t stay blocked and flows well to the football. He disrupted a running play with quick penetration and stuffed two others (one with Joseph, another with Umenyiora) right at the point-of-attack. Clancy did get two pass pressures that I saw.
In the first half, Duckett and Allen only played very late. Both got controlled easily on one run right up the gut between these two. Allen also missed a tackle on a 3rd-and-1 draw play that picked up 14 yards (as did two other Giants). Allen must have hurt his calf relatively early as he did not play much.
The defensive line that started the second half had Tuck shifted to right end (he played left end in the first half), Fred Robbins at right tackle, Damane Duckett at left tackle, and Adrian Awasom at left end. I was disappointed with Duckett. He appeared to be merely going through the motions. I expected a good game out of him since he was facing his former team. In my mind, he’s been one of the disappointments thus far in the preseason. Against the Panthers, he was effectively blocked on too many plays or he seemed to have problems locating the ball (i.e., running past the ball carrier). His pass rush was non-existent. With Allen injured, Fred Robbins played with the second team and had a decent game. He had three quality pass rushes that I saw, including a sack on 3rd-and-14. But Robbins also gets my “dumb ass” award of the game for attempting to return a fumble instead of just falling on the football and sealing the game very late in the 4th quarter. Robbins managed to pick up the ball, but was stripped of it from behind and the Panthers recovered – giving the Panthers another opportunity to steal a win. Imagine if this had been a regular season game!
Coughlin singled out Awasom for having a good camp, but I haven’t seen it on the playing field yet. He fights to get off blocks, but most of the time it is in vain. The Panthers picked up too many yards running in his direction. He flashed a little bit on the pass rush later in the second half, but really wasn’t much of a factor there either. My guess is that he is a Practice Squad candidate.
After the Giants’ took a 27-14 lead, the third teamers came into the game (though the second team was back out on the field after the Panthers cut the score to 27-21). The third team defensive line from left to right was Raheem Orr, Davern Williams, Jonas Seawright, and Brett Eddins. None of these four impressed and I think it is dubious at best that any make the squad (again, perhaps one will make the Practice Squad). The Panthers ran right at both defensive tackles and Eddins. And no one mounted a serious pass rush. That’s why they were pulled late in the game.
Linebackers: It’s a learning process for new starting SLB Reggie Torbor and it showed on Saturday. Very early on, Torbor bit hard on a play-action fake and got burned by the fullback in coverage for an easy completion (at least Torbor made a good hit on the play). Torbor was the linebacker taken off the field when the Giants went to the nickel. As far as taking on blocks, I saw mostly good things out of Torbor. The one play that stood out is where he blew up the blocking scheme to his side on Carolina’s failed 3rd-and-1 effort in the 2nd quarter. SS Gibril Wilson cleaned up on the play, but Torbor is the one who allowed him to do so.
Carlos Emmons was pretty active. He did a good job of fighting through a block on the Panthers’ second play of the game to tackle the back after a 2-yard gain. However, three plays later, he was given the impossible assignment to cover WR Steve Smith in the slot in a 3-WR set on 3rd-and-2. The Giants were still in their base defense. (I think the Giants’ defensive brain trust were gambling that it was a running play and lost). An easy completion resulted. Later in the drive, Emmons forced what I thought was clearly a fumble with a big hit on the tight end (the pass was ruled incomplete thanks to the hit). On Carolina’s next possession, the tight end got open easily in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. I am not sure if this guy was Emmons’ responsibility, but Emmons bit hard on the fake and didn’t stick with the tight end as he reversed his field. Some fans may ask where Emmons was on many of the weakside runs. Well the Panthers schemed Emmons out of the play by often forcing the Giants into their nickel, which put Emmons in more of a middle linebacker position, rather than outside of Umenyiora’s shoulder.
Antonio Pierce was credited with seven tackles, but they were really quiet tackles. He had some problems taking on the power running game at the point-of-attack, but the thing he does is keep fighting to get in on the play. Still, I’d like to see some more flash from him in terms of key tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. On the game’s first play, he over-pursued the ball carrier on a 6-yard cutback run where William Joseph was blocked by a double-team. Later in the drive, he got handled at the point-of-attack on a 5-yard gain on 2nd-and-2 (as did Umenyiora). Carl Banks criticized Pierce for his coverage on the tight end on a 28-yard gain down to the 2-yard line, but I don’t think it was Pierce’s responsibility to stick with the tight end that far down the field (I think Wilson should have picked him up sooner). Pierce did look very quick on a blitz up the gut where he got pressure on Delhomme (this was the play where Corey Webster stripped the receiver of the football).
Nick Greisen saw some decent minutes in the first half and looked good. He got some heat on Delhomme on two blitzes in the second quarter. Greisen also combined with the defensive end to hold one run to a 3-yard gain. In the second half, Greisen shot a gap in an attempt to make a play against the back in the backfield, but overran the play. But I really liked his run-and-hit play in the 4th quarter where he flowed from the middle of the field and launched himself at the back attempting to run around right end. That was fun to watch!
WLB T.J. Hollowell stunk. He was effectively blocked on almost every run in his direction. With him missing so much camp time with injuries, I doubt he makes it. Kevin Lewis simply doesn’t make any plays. He also looks slow. I saw nothing out of Jim Maxwell either except decent coverage on one misdirection pass to the tight end. But Maxwell also got beat in coverage by the back on one play and then missed the tackle on the same play, leading to a 17-yard gain. I would have liked to have seen more of Chase Blackburn. He played late and helped to clean up on the Greisen run-and-hit play I mentioned above. I like the way he plays. I did not see Joe Scott on the field.
Defensive Backs: Things started off on a rough note for Will Allen, but he ended up playing a pretty strong game. On the Panthers’ first drive, Allen had good coverage on WR Keary Colbert, but failed to make play on the football and an 18-yard reception resulted. This was a problem for Allen all of last year. Later in the drive, after Emmons forced what looked like to be a fumble, Allen tried to scoop up the football and score, but he misplayed the ball and Carolina recovered (luckily for him the play was ruled an incomplete pass). Just at this point as I was cursing Allen’s name at the TV screen, Delhomme threw an ill-advised pass that was easily intercepted by Allen (he held on!!!). The only other two negatives in the game is that I thought Allen gave Colbert too big of a cushion on one play that resulted in an easy 5-yard gain. He also got beat on a shallow crossing route across the middle by WR Steve Smith for 12 yards on 3rd-and-7. But Allen was aggressive in run support and his tackling was strong. He did a good job of stripping away one ball, causing an incompletion. Allen also disrupted a hook-and-ladder effort late in the first half by immediately and aggressively knocking into the receiver.
Before he left with an injury, Will Peterson was just OK. He gave up a 6-yard completion to Smith on 3rd-and-2 to start the game. On Carolina’s next possession, he got beat for 21 yards by Colbert.
Curtis Deloatch saw time in the nickel before Peterson got hurt and filled in for him after he was hurt (along with Corey Webster). Deloatch played well. He’s a big guy who can run and you don’t see a lot corners like that in the NFL. The only real negative I saw on him was getting beat to the inside out of the slot by Smith for 8 yards and a first down on 3rd-and-3. Deloatch should have jammed Smith in this situation. In the second half, Deloatch impressed by knocking away two deep passes. Unlike some Giant defensive backs, he plays the football in the air.
Corey Webster made a big splash with two turnovers, but still has a way to go. He played much too far off the football, allowing several easy completions. Someone as athletic and fast as Webster should not be playing so far off the football. It’s as if he was playing scared to get beat deep. The good news is that for much of the first half, he was playing against Steve Smith, so this game was an outstanding learning experience for him. On the 2-yard touchdown pass to the tight end in the first half, Webster was in the picture when the completion was made. Whether this was his man, or Emmons’, or someone else’s, I have no idea. But like Emmons, Webster didn’t see the tight end peeling back to the inside on the play. On the next Carolina drive, Webster was way too off the receiver on 3rd-and-5. Smith caught the football for a first down, but Webster closed in a big hurry and stripped Smith of the football for a big turnover. What started off as a bad play turned into a great one due to his closing speed and aggressiveness. On the next possession, however, Webster was once again a mile off of Smith and an easy 12-yard completion was the result on 2nd-and-10. The same thing happened again later when Webster was beat by Smith for 10 yards on 3rd-and-7. In the second half, Webster got sealed easily on a 16-yard run in his direction. Webster was also very lucky that Carolina’s last pass of the game was well off the mark and intercepted because he was beaten badly for what should have been a first down in scoring range with enough time left on the clock to win the game.
Gibril Wilson played an aggressive game. He made a nice open field tackle on the fullback in the flat, holding the play to a 3-yard gain. Wilson also made a huge tackle for no gain on 3rd-and-1, forcing the Panthers to punt. I do wonder if Wilson was late in getting over to cover the tight end on the 28-yard completion down to the 2-yard line. He rushed over late to make the tackle, and his body language after the play suggested to me that he was mad at himself. But I’m merely speculating here.
Brent Alexander played another quiet game. He badly missed a tackle (along with Shaun Williams) on a 14-yard draw play on 3rd-and-1 late in the first half. Shaun Williams had decent coverage on intermediate sideline route near the end of the first half that fell incomplete. Williams was flagged with a 5-yard face mask penalty in the 3rd quarter.
Reserve corners Antwain Spann (missed tackle leading to a 15-yard gain) and Michael Bragg (beat for a touchdown on a fade pass) did not help themselves. Reserve safety Curry Burns was in the right place at the right time as the Carolina third-team quarterback badly overthrew his intended receiver and Burns intercepted the football late in the game to seal the win.
Special Teams: An outstand all-around game on special teams.
PK Jay Feely hit both his field goals (35 and 28 yards). His kickoffs were very good: two touchbacks, two returns fielded at the goal line, and two fielded at the 2-yard line. Panther kickoff returns only went for 26 (James Butler on the tackle), 22 (Butler again), 18 (bit hit by Chase Blackburn), and 20 yards (Diamond Ferri and Curry Burns). That is very good.
The punting game and punt coverage were excellent. P Jeff Feagles averaged 44.5 yards-per-punt on six punts, and three of those were fielded inside the 20-yard line. Panther punt returns went for no gain (Curtis Deloatch down in a hurry), no gain (David Tyree down in a hurry), fair catch (Deloatch again down in a hurry), down at the 1-yard line (outstanding job by Deloatch to bat the ball backwards before it landed in the end zone), 16-yard return (James Butler and Willie Ponder), and a 7-yard return (Kevin Lewis). The only negative was the 16-yarder, where Ponder and Lewis missed attempted tackles.
Willie Ponder averaged 28.3 yards per kickoff return and his 49-yard return right after the turnover touchdown was a huge momentum shifter in the game.
Michael Jennings fielded four punts (two of which were fair caught). He looked very sure-handed. His two returns went for 10 and 9 yards. On his last return, Jennings demonstrated his speed by sprinting across the field and turning the corner.