CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Antrel Rolle is hardly ever at a loss for words. The Giants safety and defensive captain has never met dead air he couldn't fill with some phrase or explanation. But it was the simplest question anyone could ask Sunday that caused him to pause. For seven seconds. Without saying a word.
What is going on?
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"Hmm," Rolle said, weighing whatever was going through his mind as the silence built before answering as bluntly and obviously as the question was asked. "There's not too much going on right now."
For the third straight time, dating to last season, in what reasonably could be considered a "must-win" game, the Giants fell embarrassingly flat. This time they were spanked by the Panthers, 38-0, to fall to 0-3 for the first time since 1996 and only the 13th time in franchise history. The only other Tom Coughlin-coached NFL team to have such a poor start was the 1995 Jaguars, who lost four straight.
They were a first-year expansion team.
"Disappointing is not a strong enough word," Coughlin said. "I expected more. We built towards more and, you know, it was just not the competitive game I thought it would be."
Lately, the Giants haven't had many of those when it counted. If you disregard the Week 17 win over the Eagles last year, when the Giants needed help to make the playoffs but didn't get it, you have to go back to last Dec. 9 against the Saints for the Giants' last meaningful victory.
Since then, they have lost five of six games, with those losses coming by a combined score of 182-68. Only one of those defeats was by fewer than 18 points.
"Right now we don't look so much like a team," Rolle said. "We're not clicking, we're not playing football. We're participating in games instead of going out there and taking over games. There's a big difference. We have to find a way, find a way to get better.
"Something has to happen," Rolle said, repeating the mantra over and over as if he were willing it to come true, "because this is intolerable."
The game was a total breakdown in every regard.
The offense was so ineffective in the first half that its average production per play could be measured in feet rather than yards (2.16 feet per snap, or .72 of a yard for traditionalists). For the game, the Giants were outgained 402-150.
Eli Manning was sacked seven times, the most he's hit the turf since 2008, including five in the first quarter.
The defense was able to hang with the Panthers for a while before Cam Newton began launching deep passes over the secondary for touchdowns.
Even when the Giants managed to do something well, they couldn't capitalize. Aaron Ross intercepted Newton in Panthers territory in the second quarter and David Wilson appeared to score on a 17-yard run on the ensuing play, but a holding penalty against Will Beatty negated the score. Later in the drive, Josh Brown missed a 38-yard field-goal try and the Panthers held on to the 7-0 lead.
Carolina (1-2) drove 65 yards on 13 plays to close the half with a 16-yard scoring pass to Brandon LaFell for a 17-0 lead, then opened the third quarter with a six-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 20-yard TD pass to LaFell.
Manning threw his league-leading eighth interception three plays later. By the time Newton ran for a touchdown, pushing linebacker Jacquian Williams into the end zone with him, the Panthers led 31-0.
The Giants have shown a funny way of coming out for these must-win games, but no one is laughing.
"It's stunning," said Victor Cruz, who was held to three catches for 25 yards.
"You look at people's faces and you just see the disbelief, the shock," Justin Tuck added.
Given how the Giants have responded to recent critical games, though, perhaps surprise is not in order.
"I thought that we were in a position today to be able to put our best foot forward," Coughlin said. "But we never gave ourselves a chance competitively to be in the game."