NFC South: Panthers-Giants

 
 Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
 New York's Derrick Ward ran for 215 yards as the Giants' ground game swarmed over Carolina's defense in the Giants' 34-28 overtime win.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Their brief reign as the NFC's best and hottest team is over - at least for the moment.

On a frigid night in Giants Stadium, the Carolina Panthers cooled off.

"Carolina was playing better football than anybody else the last eight weeks,'' New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

The Panthers played good football for most of Sunday night, but it wasn't enough to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions or grab the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. If the Panthers are going to the Super Bowl, they'll probably have to come back through the Meadowlands in January.

Carolina's John Kasay missed a long field goal attempt at the end of regulation and the Panthers squandered a huge night by running back DeAngelo Williams in a 34-28 overtime loss to the Giants.

The Panthers (11-4) could have claimed the No. 1 seed with a victory, but now they enter a world of uncertainty. They have clinched a playoff spot, but nothing else. The Atlanta Falcons (10-5) remain in the NFC South picture and host hapless St. Louis in the regular-season finale.

The road isn't quite as easy for the Panthers. They have to travel to New Orleans, where the Saints will be playing for pride and a winning season.

Was it a case of opportunity lost for Carolina? We'll see in the next few weeks. The Panthers could still end up with the NFC South crown and the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

But this was the kind of loss that could end up hurting the Panthers. If Carolina crumbles, this may not be the kind of game that kills the momentum that was building the past two months. Losing in overtime to a team like the Giants could make the Panthers stronger.

If nothing else, they now know they can play with anybody on the road, and they did that without being able to do one of the two basic things that coach John Fox usually thrives on. Quite simply, the Panthers couldn't stop the run, and that's why they lost.

With a swirling wind blowing most of the night, the Giants were able to run for 301 yards. Derrick Ward ran for 215 yards on 15 carries. Oh, by the way, Brandon Jacobs, who was returning from an injury, chipped in with 87 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

Those numbers violate what Fox has preached since the day he was hired by the Panthers in 2002. In his hiring press conference at Bank of America Stadium, Fox said his teams would stop the run on defense and run the ball on offense, and he has been throwing out those lines, and not much else, since.

The Panthers did run the ball on offense. Williams gained 108 yards on 24 carries and scored four touchdowns and the Panthers had a 21-10 lead in the second quarter. Four touchdowns usually are enough for Carolina to win.

But this was far from a usual night for Carolina. You may never have heard of Maake Kemoeatu before now, but he ended up being one of the biggest story lines of the game. Kemoeatu didn't even play, and that had a lot to do with why the Panthers lost and Ward ended up with a rushing average (14.3 yards a carry) that looked more like a basketball scoring average.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Carolina Panthers weren't able to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Panthers will host at least one game. But Sunday night's 34-28 overtime loss to the New York Giants means the Panthers won't be the top seed in the NFC. The No. 1 seed goes to the Giants.

A meeting of the conference's two best teams lived up to the hype and it might end up being a preview of the NFC Championship Game. But the Panthers weren't able to earn all rights to host it in Bank of America Stadium, where Carolina is undefeated this year.

The only way the Panthers can host is if the Giants don't reach the NFC title game. But Carolina is in line for a first-round bye and a home game in the second round of the playoffs. That's a better start than Carolina's last two swings in the postseason. In 2005, Carolina won at Giants' Stadium and Chicago's Soldier Field before losing at Seattle in a game where travel fatigue was a big factor.

Carolina also won on the road at St. Louis and Philadelphia in its 2003 Super Bowl season.

Stewart's back

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
10:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Panthers appear to have caught a break on the injury front. Running back Jonathan Stewart left the game after suffering a head injury in the second quarter.

But Stewart apparently checked out all right. He's back in the game.

Stat of the day: One man, six shirts

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
10:07
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just ran into Panthers' radio play-by-play man Mick Mixon as he was thawing out in the press box at halftime.

Mixon's radio booth is out in the open air and it's frigid here. But give Mixon credit for being prepared. He said he's wearing six (yes, six) shirts under his jacket and has battery-powered heaters hooked up to his socks.

Stewart leaves with head injury

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
9:23
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Something to keep an eye on as the game goes on. Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart suffered a head injury in the second quarter and has yet to return.

Stewart's still being examined by medical personnel and team officials just said it's questionable if he'll be able to return tonight. The Panthers pride themselves on dividing the load between DeAngelo Williams and Stewart and generally are careful not to overuse Williams. If Stewart can't come back, look for a healthy dose of playing time from backup running back Nick Goings in the second half.

Some playoff scenarios to ponder

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
9:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- ESPN Stats and Information just sent out some of the basic remaining playoff scenarios for the NFC. Here they are.

NFC NORTH

- Vikings clinch with 1 Bears loss OR win in Week 17

- Bears clinch NFC North with 2 wins AND a Vikings loss

NFC WILD CARD:

- Cowboys clinch playoff spot with win at Eagles

- Buccaneers clinch playoff spot with win vs. Raiders AND loss by Cowboys

OTHER POSSIBILITIES:

- Bears clinch playoff spot with TWO wins and losses by Cowboys AND Buccaneers

- Eagles clinch playoff spot with win vs. Cowboys AND loss by Buccaneers AND one Bears loss

OTHER SCENARIOS IN ALL CONFERENCES ARE POSSIBLE - WE WILL GET THEM FROM THE NFL AS THE WEEK PROGRESSES

Tonight's inactives

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
7:42
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Panthers just made an interesting announcement. They'll start Geoff Hangartner at right guard tonight.

It was obvious the Panthers knew they'd be without the injured Keydrick Vincent, but there was an assumption that Jeremy Bridges would take his place because Bridges took over after Vincent got hurt last season.

Also, the Panthers made it official that Darwin Walker will start at defensive tackle in place of the injured Maake Kemoeatu, who will become the first Carolina defensive player to miss a start this year.

Kemoeatu is joined on the list of inactives by: Matt Moore, D.J. Hackett, C.J. Wilson, Adam Seward, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Hilee Taylor and Kenneth Moore.

The inactives for the Giants are: Lawrence Tynes, Sam Madison, Gerris Wilkinson, Adam Koets, Leger Douzable, Derek Hagan, Sinorice Moss and Jerome McDougle.

Kemoeatu a no go for Panthers

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
7:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Well, it's official now. The Panthers will be without their best run stuffer tonight.

Kemoeatu

Defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu has been deactivated, the team said. That was pretty much expected because Kemoeatu was walking with crutches and a boot earlier this week because of an ankle injury. He sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday and took part on a very limited basis Friday.

That makes it pretty clear the Giants will try to use their running game to attack the middle of Carolina's defense. The Panthers don't have another defensive tackle nearly as big as the 350-pound Kemoeatu.

Darwin Walker is expected to start in Kemoeatu's place.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Let's get this out of the way at the start: The Carolina Panthers are the best team the NFC has to offer right now.

Kind of ironic because that's the kind of attention their fans have been begging for all season. It's also ironic because that's exactly the same type of attention their coach, general manager and owner absolutely despise.

 
 Kevin Terrell/Getty Images
 John Fox has the Panthers poised for the top spot in the NFC playoffs.

If John Fox, Marty Hurney and Jerry Richardson were piloting a plane up to New York for Sunday night's showdown with the New York Giants, they'd be scraping the ground all the way. These guys didn't invent flying under the radar -- they just have mastered it.

Tell Fox his team is 11-3 and he instantly will tell you the only thing guaranteed is the Panthers will finish with 11 wins. Pick up a phone in the Giants Stadium press box in the final moments of a 2005 playoff shutout of New York and start making hotel reservations in Chicago for the following week's game and Hurney, the bizarrely-superstitious general manager, will start screaming at a reporter, "Stan, hang up that phone right now. This game's not over. You're going to jinx us."

Richardson, the owner who brought the franchise to the Carolinas, gets bashed on talk radio for not giving any interviews. In recent years, he's sat down with a beat writer or columnist from The Charlotte Observer once or twice a year for one-on-one chats. In those settings, Richardson shows a tremendous mind and a brilliant common touch. He'll give good answers and, inevitably, the beat writer or the columnist would look at him and say, "See it's not so hard. Why don't you do this more often?" Richardson would then say he prefers not to because it's not about him, it's about the team.

Then, Richardson would sit for an hour or two and talk off the record, asking the columnist about his family or asking the beat reporter what parts of the team could be run better. Part of it was a genuine concern about the person he was talking to and part of it was to take the attention off himself.

But it's no longer possible for Fox, Hurney and Richardson to stay under the radar. Their team is playing the defending Super Bowl champions in a prime-time slot -- nobody's overlooking the Panthers anymore.

Maybe those fans who have been beating their chests and sounding like helicopters can stop. The Panthers are getting attention and respect.

As I said at the start, the Panthers are the best team in the NFC right now. And I'll take it one step further and say the Panthers are the NFC's best bet to get to the Super Bowl.

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Video: Panthers-Giants preview

December, 18, 2008
12/18/08
11:56
AM ET

Mark Schlereth and Mike Golic preview the Panthers-Giants game and debate which team is the best in the NFC.

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