Giants get running game in gear against Panthers

Brandon Jacobs, right, greets Ahmad Bradshaw after he Brandon Jacobs, right, greets Ahmad Bradshaw after he scored a first-quarter touchdown. (Aug. 17, 2009) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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Brandon Jacobs is supposed to be the running back who treats defensive backs like bowling pins. Last night it was Ahmad Bradshaw.

Bradshaw is supposed to be the back who makes tacklers fall face-first and arm-empty. Last night it was Danny Ware.

The Giants had their backfield personalities all jumbled up in the preseason opener against the Panthers. But don't call it an identity crisis. It was more like an identity celebration.

Maybe all this hand-wringing over the receivers is unnecessary.

Jacobs started the 24-17 win over the Panthers at running back and Bradshaw took over midway through the second drive. On his third play from scrimmage, he took a handoff through the right side of the line - using a key block by pulling guard Tutan Reyes - and set off for the goal line. Standing in his way at the 4 was 6-1, 200-pound cornerback Chris Gamble. Bradshaw lowered his shoulder into the six-year veteran and flattened him, pushing forward into the end zone with a spinning flop for the first touchdown of the season. "You know what, I got a little power in these legs," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw also capped the first quarter with an 11-yard run. As the teams changed ends of the field, Jacobs ran out and gave Bradshaw a big hug and slap on the head. Running backs coach Jerald Ingram also made his way onto the field to compliment him.

Ware scored the other first-half touchdown with a 36-yard screen pass from David Carr with 37 seconds left in the half. Ware took the pass at the line of scrimmage with Guy Whimper in front of him, but he blew past the offensive lineman before he could block anyone. No matter as Ware eluded three tackle attempts, dodging Joe Fields and then making Hilee Taylor whiff twice inside the 10.

"It was just green grass," Ware said of the play. "You can only do what you know how to do, and that's try to run into the end zone and keep everybody from stopping you."

Ware got most of the carries in the game, rushing for 21 yards on 12 carries (he had 43 receiving yards on two passes). Bradshaw ran for 35 yards on five carries and Jacobs had 31 on four. Tom Coughlin said he was unimpressed by the rushing statistics but did note the ability of Bradshaw and Ware on their big plays.

While Bradshaw is slotted in as the No. 2 back, Ware said he's not giving up on the job. He'd like to have that role this season.

"It's a race right now," Ware said. "Ahmad had a great couple of runs and got in the end zone. I felt like I had to go out there and respond as a competitor."

Together, in some order and combination, Ware and Bradshaw will be called upon to replace Derrick Ward and the 1,025 rushing yards he took with him to Tampa Bay in free agency.

The Giants led 14-2 at halftime and 14-9 for most of the second half. The Panthers scored on a 31-yard touchdown with 57 seconds remaining and went for two to tie it. Overtime seemed inevitable until Leger Douzable knocked the ball out of the hands of quarterback Hunter Cantwell and defensive end Tommie Hill plucked it from the air and ran 18 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. It was one of five turnovers forced by the Giants' defense.

"I've gotten to run with the football a couple of times," Hill said, "but I haven't gotten to score since high school."

While the offense was running on three cylinders, the defense kept the Panthers out of the end zone throughout the first half. Osi Umenyiora, in his first action since season-ending knee surgery last August, had a sack on the second series. Maurice Evans and Clint Sintim each had a strip-sack and Stoney Woodson had an interception.

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