Five moments that shaped the season: No. 1

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
11:30
AM ET
We conclude this week's grim series of 2013 New York Giants recollection with a capper that was less a "moment" than it was a terrifying avalanche that buried a season.

No. 1 -- Sacked (and sacked, and sacked, and sacked, and sacked, and sacked) in Carolina

On the morning of Sept. 22, the 0-2 Giants arrived at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., for a game against the 0-2 Carolina Panthers. It was being billed as a "must-win" game for both teams, though maybe moreso for Carolina. There was talk that a loss could lead the Panthers to fire coach Ron Rivera as early as the next day. And while there was no such intrigue regarding Tom Coughlin, the Giants had been beaten up by the Cowboys and Broncos in their first two games and were hoping an old, familiar punching bag could help them get back on track.

Uh... not so much.

A Panthers' defense that turns out to have been one of the very best in the NFL sacked Eli Manning six times in the first 17 minutes of the game, setting a tone for a 38-0 Carolina whitewash that represents the worst loss of Coughlin's career with the Giants. This was the bottoming-out for an offensive line that would bear the bulk of the responsibility for the Giants' issues on offense all year, as the injuries David Baas and Chris Snee suffered in the game would force the team to try and fix its already significant pass-protection problems with unqualified backups. It was also a low point for the Giants' defense, which hadn't yet acquired Jon Beason from Carolina and allowed 120 rushing yards to DeAngelo Williams and four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) to Cam Newton.

This was the game in which Hakeem Nicks was targeted only once, very late, and caught no passes, after which he got in a little bit of hot water for joking, "I can't throw it to myself." The Giants had 90 passing yards and 60 rushing yards for the game, turned the ball over three times and committed six penalties. Other than the shocking absence of a special-teams touchdown by the opponent (something that happened in every other game they played in September), this game showcased pretty much all of the problems that would doom the Giants' season.

That morning of Sept. 22, two 0-2 teams met on the field in Carolina. From that point forward, the Panthers went 12-2 and secured the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Giants would lose four more games before winning their first, and ended up 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. At kickoff that day, the two teams seemed to be in similar plights. But by the time the game ended, it was clear that the Giants were the team in much more trouble.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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