With less than six minutes left in the third quarter Sunday, the Giants were trailing unbeaten Carolina by 28 points and Odell Beckham had more drops (two) and penalties (one, plus another that was declined) than he did catches (zero).
At that point, it seemed as if the game was over. But it turned out it was a long way from decided as the Giants scored 28 straight points to tie it.
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They lost anyway, though, as Graham Gano kicked a 43-yard field goal with no time remaining to give Carolina a 38-35 victory.
Which seemed to make it hurt even worse.
“In the end, it’s a loss,’’ defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “Although we fought, fought hard at the end, we still lost . . . We had a chance to get off the field, you know, at the end. The score was tied. We’ve got to come through in that situation.’’
It’s a situation the Giants certainly are familiar with. It was the third time they’ve lost on the final play of the game, and one other time they lost with one second left. In all, they’ve lost six games in which they allowed the tying or winning score with less than two minutes left in regulation.
“I don’t want to say I’m almost numb to it, because . . . we’ve been here, and you’re disappointed, but you have no one to blame but yourself,’’ cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “God, there’s so many times we shot ourselves in the foot in this game.’’
Beckham dropped a sure touchdown pass on the Giants’ first series after he got behind Josh Norman, with whom he had a contentious battle throughout the game. Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie dropped an interception that likely would have been returned for a score. And for much of the first three quarters, it seemed as if Carolina had a receiver running free on every pass play, and Cam Newton hit him every time.
But after Ted Ginn Jr. caught Newton’s fifth touchdown pass — a 14-yarder that put Carolina up 35-7 with 5:32 left in the third — things changed abruptly. Suddenly, the Giants started scoring and the Panthers stopped.
It started with the first play of the Giants’ next offensive series, when Eli Manning completed a hitch pass to Beckham for a 3-yard gain. The fans applauded sarcastically. But Rashad Jennings ran for 8 yards and a first down, and four plays later, Manning completed a fourth-and-2 pass to Beckham for 5 yards and a first down. The Giants scored on an 8-yard pass from Manning to Stony Brook product Will Tye.
Then the defense forced a three-and-out and Jennings (107 yards, 16 carries) scored on a 38-yard run to make it 35-21.
Carolina’s next drive stalled at the Giants’ 16 and the Panthers atempted a 34-yard field goal, but Rodgers-Cromartie blocked the kick. The Giants didn’t turn that into points, as Manning was intercepted in the end zone. But two plays after that, Newton fumbled a handoff and Kerry Wynn recovered for the Giants at the Carolina 14. Three plays later, Manning hit Shane Vereen on a screen pass for an 8-yard TD to make it 35-28.
The Giants got the ball back with 4:17 left and tied the score on Manning’s 14-yard TD pass to Beckham with 1:46 left. But Newton drove the Panthers downfield to set up Gano’s winning kick.
“You go out there, you battle back, you have some big stops coming into the third and fourth quarter,’’ Rodgers-Cromartie said. “And to go out there and just let them drive down the field is just mind-boggling.”