CHARLOTTE – Cam Newton tried to tell everyone who would listen last week that the Carolina Panthers were much better than an 0-2 team.
He and his teammates went out and proved it.
Newton threw three touchdown passes and ran for another, and Carolina sacked Eli Manning seven times as the Panthers handed Tom Coughlin his worst defeat as coach of the New York Giants, 38-0, on Sunday.
The Panthers posted the most lopsided victory in franchise history, helping to eliminate questions about coach Ron Rivera’s job security entering the team’s bye week.
“We were past due for a win like this,” Newton said. “A win like this boosts our ego and gives us that swagger we need.”
Carolina’s previous best victory was a 34-0 rout against Kansas City in 2008.
This one couldn’t have come at a better time for Rivera, especially after his team squandered fourth-quarter leads to Seattle and Buffalo, which dropped his record to 2-14 in games decided by seven points or fewer and raised speculation about his job.
“We allowed Coach, as people say, to survive another week,” Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said.
Defensive end Greg Hardy, who tied a career-high with three sacks in the first half, said if Rivera was feeling pressure to win he never let on to his players at practice.
“He basically came out and said, ‘You know what, (to heck with) me, I’m here for you guys,’” Hardy said. “He said, ‘This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to win because we are a team not because of any of that.’ It makes you want to play 10 times harder for him.”
The Giants have plenty of concerns as they prepare for next Sunday’s game against unbeaten Kansas City.
Of the 161 teams that have started the season 0-3 since 1978, only five made the NFL playoffs, according to STATS. A terse Coughlin said after the game that “disappointed isn’t a strong enough word. I expected more.”
The Giants’ offensive line appears to be a mess.
New York came in with only 73 rusuhing yards in its first two games and managed just 60 yards Sunday, 40 coming after the Giants trailed 31-0.
Manning was under pressure all day and finished 12-of-23 for 119 yards with two interceptions.
The seven sacks tied a Carolina franchise record.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance to go after that chopped-up secondary because they did an outstanding job up front,” Coughlin said. “They ended up with seven sacks, and our quarterback must have gotten hit 20 times.”
The Panthers set the tone early, sacking Manning five times in the first quarter. They limited the Giants to 18 total yards – and just one passing yard – in the first half and took a 17-0 lead to the locker room.
The Panthers offense, feeding off the defense, finally started rolling.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula allowed Newton to run out of the read option, which helped open up an offense that had been stagnant this season.
Newton had 223 yards passing and threw two touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell and one to Ted Ginn Jr. He ran for 45 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
DeAngelo Williams ran for 120 yards on 23 carries.
The Panthers turned to the read option on their second possession, something they used frequently the past two seasons. Newton ran four times for 40 yards on the drive, with fullback Mike Tolbert scoring on a two-yard run.
Newton said that was designed to neutralize defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s pass rush.
“The game plan was to attack and nuke his aggressiveness and turn it into his curse,” Newton said.
The Panthers pushed their lead to 17-0 on a 53-yard field goal by Graham Gano and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Newton to LaFell with 12 seconds to go in the half.
The Panthers kept the gas pedal down in the second half, putting the game away by scoring on its first two possessions of the third quarter as Newton connected on a 20-yard strike to LaFell and then scored a quarterback draw.
Newton later connected on a 47-yard touchdown pass with Ginn.
Newton said after two close losses, the Panthers didn’t want to leave any doubt about this one after halftime.