Hakeem lives dream in opening win

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Hakeem Nicks might want to go into hiding the next time he heads home to North Carolina.

The Charlotte native torched his hometown Panthers in the New York Giants' season-opening 31-18 win over Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

Nicks scored three touchdowns -- including the first regular-season touchdown in the New Meadowlands Stadium -- and finished with four catches and 75 yards. Nicks' first two TD catches erased a Giants deficit. The third score -- a 5-yard catch with 1:42 left in the third quarter -- gave the Giants a 24-16 lead.

"That's why we believe in him," fellow starting wideout Steve Smith said. "He showed what we see every day in practice."

Nicks' memorable Sunday started with a play he'd probably rather forget.

With the Giants facing a second-and-18 from their own 31, Eli Manning threw high to Nicks. The ball deflected off Nicks' hands and was picked off by Charles Godfrey with 11 minutes to go in the first.

Nicks said he went to the sideline and apologized to Manning.

"I get pretty hard on myself when I have a negative [play] in the game, so I try to bounce back two times harder," Nicks said.

Manning clearly accepted the act of contrition because with two seconds left in the first quarter, he found Nicks open behind Richard Marshall and Godfrey in the left corner of the end zone for a 26-yard scoring strike.

That play seemed to settle the second-year wideout.

On the Giants' final drive of the first half, Nicks hauled in a 25-yard pass on the sideline, but he was initially ruled out-of-bounds by the line judge. The call was challenged by the officials upstairs and eventually ruled a catch.

Four plays later, Nicks ran a crisp route down the right sideline to get behind Marshall and caught a 19-yard pass in the back of the end zone with 45 seconds to go in the half.

"He didn't start the game as well as we had hoped, but he did come back and he did play through," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He concentrated on the sideline, caught the deep ball, made the nice maneuver on the back side and got himself open for a touchdown there. ... It was real important that he come back and play."

Nicks caught 47 balls for 790 yards and six touchdowns in 2009. He was named a starter opposite Smith in the 2010 preseason and understands that he's a vital part of the Giants' young receiving corps -- one of the few aspects of the team that wasn't surrounded by major question marks entering the season opener.

Nicks showed why there was no reason to be concerned about the Giants' wideouts on Sunday, thanks to a performance he hopes to duplicate again and again in 2010.

"It's great," he said. "But I want to keep going from here."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.