CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jordan Gross expected the Carolina Panthers to get off to a fast start against the New York Giants and build off the momentum from last week's win against a divisional rival.
Instead, the tackle was shocked by the way the Panthers' offense struggled in a 36-7 loss to the reigning Super Bowl champions on Thursday night.
"You've got all weekend to sit and think about what went wrong," Gross said. "Coach (Ron) Rivera said it's not time to push the panic button, but we can't let this happen. We can't be so up and down — two weeks down and one week up, so far."
The Panthers entered the season figuring offense wouldn't be a big concern with reigning AP offensive rookie of the year Cam Newton, top wideout Steve Smith, and a strong running game. Yet Carolina struggled in an opening loss against Tampa Bay, bounced back with a keep-the-chains-moving performance in a win against New Orleans last weekend, then regressed again on a night filled with stalled drives against the Giants.
The Panthers trailed 20-0 after a first half in which they failed to drive past the Giants 39-yard line — and that drive ended with one of Newton's three interceptions on a ball that bounced off the outstretched arm of receiver Brandon LaFell. Their only touchdown came on a leaping 1-yard keeper from Newton in the third quarter, but Newton's final throw was an interception in the end zone midway through the fourth.
"The way we played last week, I thought it was going to lead to something," LaFell said. "It didn't."
For the Giants, first-time starter Andre Brown ran for a career-high 113 yards and two touchdowns, and Eli Manning threw for 288 yards and a score.
Four days after rallying from 14 points down to beat Tampa Bay, the Giants dominated the first half, scoring on their first four possessions to build the 20-0 lead.
The Giants (2-1) were without three starters but it hardly mattered.
Brown got the start in place of Ahmad Bradshaw, who sat out with a neck injury. Ramses Barden caught nine passes for a career-high 138 yards in his first NFL start in place of Hakeem Nicks.
Mixing run and pass, the Giants dominated the opening half, outgaining the Panthers 303-125.
Manning completed 19 of 25 passes for 208 yards in the first half, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett to cap the Giants' game-opening drive and set the tone. The eight-play, 80-yard drive marked the third straight game the Panthers allowed a touchdown on an opponent's first possession.
Brown repeatedly bounced off tacklers, and Barden had little trouble getting open against a Carolina defense that failed to pressure Manning.
Brown ran 13 times for 71 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay and surpassed that total by the end of the first quarter with 77 yards on seven.
Barden had 123 yards on seven carries in the first half.
Before Thursday night, the fourth-year receiver had never managed more than nine catches for 94 yards receiving in a season.
Any hope that the Panthers (1-2) would turn things around in the second half were slowed when rookie returner Joe Adams fumbled the ball on the opening kickoff, resulting in another field goal for Lawrence Tynes.
The Panthers didn't get on the board until midway through the third quarter when Newton leaped over the pile from a yard out.
NOTES: Tynes had five field goals, including 47- and 49-yard kicks. ... Adams also muffed a punt return in the fourth quarter for Carolina's fifth turnover. ... For the third straight game, Smith sparred with an opposing cornerback. This week's victim was Corey Webster. ... Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart missed his second game of the season because of a toe injury. The Panthers also were without tackle Byron Bell. ... The Panthers honored Olympic gold medal swimmers Cullen Jones and Ricky Berens.