CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The buzz around the league for much of this week was about the replacement officials. After Thursday night, they'll be talking about the replacement Giants.
Banged up Big Blue came to Charlotte without four key offensive players but picked up right where it left off four days earlier, crushing the Panthers behind the efforts of two players who had so little history of heroics that they had career days by the time the first quarter was over.
Brown had a bit of a coming out Sunday when he stepped in for injured Ahmad Bradshaw. For Barden, though, this was his first chance to fulfill the promise and potential the Giants saw when they drafted him as a project out of Cal Poly.
Hakeem Nicks was expected to play but on Tuesday he was ruled out because of a lingering foot injury and the short span between games. Domenik Hixon usually would have stepped in, but he was out with a concussion. That meant Barden was thrust into his first NFL start. All he did was catch seven passes for 123 yards in the first half as the Giants built a 20-0 lead. Barden entered with 16 catches for 198 yards in his career.
The 6-6, 224-pounder finished with nine catches for 138 yards. Brown gained 113 yards on 20 carries and scored twice.
"Words can't describe [it]," Barden said of his performance. "It's not everything I wanted. There are plays I want back and there's more I want next week and the following week. I'm not easy to satisfy. But it's definitely an OK start for me."
Nicks was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 10-catch, 199-yard performance against the Bucs. His understudy put up numbers that could have him in consideration for a similar honor. He'll certainly be among the most surprising players of the week.
"Ramses Barden has played well every time he's played, he's just been injured," general manager Jerry Reese said. "We said this all along, all he has to do is stay in there and he'll do a good job. He's a talented player.''
The Giants spoiled Cam Newton's first NFL prime-time game by keeping the second-year quarterback known as Superman locked in his phone booth. Jason Pierre-Paul batted down two of his first-half passes, and Newton was intercepted three times.
And when Newton tried to run, he was more often than not stuffed. Justin Tuck buried him at the line of scrimmage on an option attempt, and rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley chased him to force a key third-down incompletion. In the third quarter, two plays after blitzing Newton and forcing a sack, linebacker Michael Boley dropped into coverage and grabbed his third interception of the season.
It wasn't until 6:25 remained in the third quarter that Newton had something to flap his cape about. On third-and-goal at the 1, he leaped over the pile in a single bound. But by that point poor Lois Lane was already a goner and it made the score only 23-7.
The Giants scored on five of their first six possessions. They started with an eight-play drive of 80 yards capped by a 14-yard TD pass from Eli Manning -- you remember him, right? The guy who threw for 510 yards last week and 288 this week? -- to tight end Martellus Bennett.
Barden caught two passes for 34 yards on a drive capped by Brown's 1-yard run for a 17-0 lead. Then Barden caught 21- and 23-yarders to set up a 49-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes that made it 20-0.
Nicks is expected back next Sunday when the Giants (2-1) face the Eagles (2-0). He has nine days to get ready. But if he's not ready? Well, don't expect the offense to be stopped suddenly because of it. The Giants can just Barden the interruption.