Giants, Panthers look to avoid precarious 0-3 hole
Eli Manning isn't calling Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers a must win for the New York Giants.
Carolina's Cam Newton won't go there, either.
But both quarterbacks know the importance of avoiding a third straight loss to open the season when the two winless teams meet in Charlotte.
NFL teams that start the season 0-3 generally don't make the playoffs — and when they do, they don't go very far.
Since 1978 when the league went to a 16-game regular-season schedule, 161 teams have started the season 0-3 and only five — that's 3.1 percent — have made the postseason. Of those five, none has advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs, according to STATS Inc.
Manning said he feels as though the Giants are close to turning things around.
"We know what the mistakes are, what the corrections (are) that we need to make to get better and so I think there's still a positive energy around this team," Manning said. "We feel that we can straighten it out and start playing really good football real soon."
Newton said the Panthers aren't ready to panic either after close losses to Seattle and Buffalo.
"It's still early in the season," Newton said. "For us, we can't get beside ourselves with our record right now. We still haven't played any (division) games. We're right here on the brink and I feel as if just a little bit more focus, another play or two, and we would easily be 2-0."
Here are five things to know about the Giants-Panthers matchup:
— ELI AGAINST CAROLINA'S INURED SECONDARY: Manning has thrown for more than 800 yards in his first two games, but his seven interceptions have been a cause for concern. This could be the right week to get things turned around. He's 4-1 against Carolina during his career and he's facing a banged- up secondary that wasn't all that good to begin with. The Panthers will be without safeties Charles Godfrey and Quintin Mikell; starting cornerback Josh Thomas is battling a concussion and should be a game-time decision.
— CAN THE PANTHERS CLOSE OUT?: The Panthers lost 36-7 at home to the Giants last September, so there's no guarantee this one will be close. But if the Panthers can keep it tight, they'll need to prove they can finish things off. Carolina has lost its first two games after surrendering a fourth-quarter lead. That's part of a cruel trend for the Panthers, who have lost 10 games while leading in the fourth since coach Ron Rivera was hired in 2011. That's tied with Philadelphia for the most in the league during that span.
— GIANTS LACK A RUNNING GAME: One of New York's issues has been its inability to run the football — and running back David Wilson's ability to hold onto it. The Giants have just 73 yards on 33 carries, a mere 2.2-yard average, and have fumbled three times. Still, Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes the Giants running backs are on the verge of a breakout game. "They've had a very good attack for years," he said.
—PRESSURING THE QUARTERBACK: The Giants have just two sacks in the first two games, but chances are that trend will change sooner or later. And this might be a good week to improve on those numbers. The Panthers gave up six sacks last week on offense to Buffalo, including 4 ½ to Mario Williams. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has taken some of the blame, saying he needs to improve his play and step up. "Me personally, I know I'm not playing as well, like I did in the past," Pierre-Paul said.
—EMOTION FACTOR: Don't underestimate the emotion in this week's game. Giants coach Tom Coughlin's brother died earlier this week and you can bet the Giants will be a little extra motivated to get a win. "You always want to do your part to pick them up," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "If that's winning a football game or that's saying a kind word, whatever it may be, you always have to try your best to pick their spirits up."
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