CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It was a grim-faced Eli Manning who walked into the Giants' locker room after a 38-0 beating by Carolina Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium, the silver lining being that the quarterback still was upright and able to walk after absorbing seven sacks.
"I'll bet the quarterback got hit 20 times today," coach Tom Coughlin said, lending perspective to the pounding.
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During the past couple of seasons, the Giants' offense has been defined by the big-play passing of Manning to wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. But the quarterback was under so much duress Sunday that he was forced to dump the ball off short. On one play, Manning barely got off a deep attempt to Cruz before being steamrollered by 315-pound defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
He completed only three passes to Cruz for a mere 25 yards. Nicks, who hoped for a big game in his home state, had no catches and was targeted only once.
"That's part of the game," Nicks said. "You've got to control what you can control. I can't throw it to myself, you know."
Asked what he was thinking while running his pass routes, Nicks said, "Just try to get open quick."
Was he open? Said Nicks, "I always think I'm open."
Nicks' frustration was evident, but he wasn't blaming Manning for the breakdown of pass protection or the failure of the running game. The quarterback Nicks saw remained strong in the face of all the pressure.
"Eli's a tough guy," Nicks said. "He'll never lay down no matter how many times he gets hit. He's going to always get back up. That's what we like about him. I'm sure he's going to bounce back. We've just got to come back strong."
Manning said the Giants must slow the pass rush by running the ball more effectively, utilizing screen passes or getting rid of the ball sooner. The ineffective running game is allowing defenses to ignore the run and play to take away the deep pass.
Carolina's defense, Manning said, "was able to get great pressure with just bringing four guys, and that's tough. When you can drop seven guys and rush four and get pressure, it's going to make it hard for any offense to have a successful passing game.''
The Giants had one chance to light a spark after Aaron Ross' interception put the ball at the Panthers' 17 in the second quarter. Running back David Wilson swept left for a touchdown that would have tied the score at 7-7, but it was negated by a holding penalty. Manning was sacked on the next play, and kicker Josh Brown ultimately missed a field goal.
"We got the holding call that backs us up 20 yards and the next play they get the sack and, all of a sudden, you're going backwards," Manning said. "It killed all the momentum. Too many times, we were going backwards instead of moving forwards."
What's the answer? "Words aren't going to fix anything," Manning said. "It's about us having great practices and playing better on game day."