- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Some of the younger New York Giants probably have never seen the 1990 Spike Lee joint that Perry Fewell used as his theme for his message to the defense.
But each Giant knew exactly what the defensive coordinator wanted from him when Fewell repeatedly talked about "Mo' Better Blues" in his defensive team meeting on Saturday.
"He is always saying, always do a little mo' better," cornerback Corey Webster said. "Next play, be a little mo' better. Mo' better. Mo' better."
Apparently, Spike couldn't have delivered the message any better himself. Heeding their defensive coordinator's mantra, the Giants got only better the longer the game went on against Carolina. After spotting the Panthers 16 points in the first half, the Giants held Carolina to two points to open the New Meadowlands Stadium with a confidence-building 31-18 victory.
The biggest question mark entering the season for the Giants was how would their defense be this season. The answer after the first game is "Mo' better."
Frankly, anything resembling a competent defense with a pulse would have been an upgrade over last season's zombie-like effort. Just ask the Panthers. The last time they saw the Giants, they humiliated Bill Sheridan's injury-decimated defense. Without DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers unleashed Jonathan Stewart for 206 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 41-9 rout to shut down Giants Stadium last December.
On Sunday, the Giants put last year's Charmin act in the past and held one of the NFL's best rushing teams to a total of 89 rushing yards on 24 carries. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Carolina managed just six yards on the ground after halftime.
Williams gained 62 yards, 29 coming on one run in the first half. Stewart was an afterthought with 12 yards.
The Panthers, built on their powerful running game, were forced to abandon their strength in the second half.
Fewell, who swore that he revealed only 10 to 20 percent of his defense in the preseason, decided to combat Carolina's ground game by supersizing his defense. He started defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka at outside linebacker in place of Michael Boley. He had Osi Umenyiora at right defensive end but monster defensive tackle Chris Canty slid over to defensive end often as well. Fewell also had three safeties -- Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant -- on the field often as well. In other packages, four defensive ends lined up in front.
"You know what we did? We matched their strength," said cornerback Terrell Thomas. "They want to run the ball, OK, instead of having an extra corner in the game or a small WILL 'backer, we put an extra big body in there and it made a difference. Last year they ran the ball down our mouth."
And apparently that will be Fewell's blueprint for this season. Identify what the opponent does best and attack it with one of the many pieces Jerry Reese assembled.
The Giants stuffed Williams and the Panthers on the opening drive, forcing a three-and-out. On the second Panthers offensive drive, Williams busted a 29-yard run and Carolina was soon inside the Giants' 20. But Grant, who was not thrilled about being a backup with Phillips' return, made an acrobatic interception in the end zone off Matt Moore to stop a potential touchdown.
Carolina would have another chance to score a touchdown when Williams had a clear path into the end zone on a third-and-4 from the Giants' 5-yard line. But Phillips, who looks better with each week that goes by from last year's microfracture surgery, made a terrific ankle tackle to trip up Williams short of the end zone, forcing Carolina to settle for the first of three John Kasay field goals in the first half.
The Giants' defense isn't a finished product, not even close. Moore drove the Panthers 50 yards in 30 seconds, culminating with a touchdown pass to Steve Smith, who beat Thomas, at the end of the first half to put Carolina up 16-14.
And the Giants allowed Carolina to convert eight third downs, some of them third-and-longs. But once Eli Manning found Hakeem Nicks for a third time in the end zone to give the Giants a 24-16 cushion late in the third quarter, Fewell unleashed his pass rush on Moore.
Under attack, Moore (182 yards passing) completed just 5 of 14 passes in the last 16:42. During that span, he threw two of his three interceptions and was sacked four times, the last sack by Umenyiora knocking him out of the game with a concussion. He also fumbled twice after being sacked.
"Everybody is hungry up there," said defensive tackle Barry Cofield, whose defense collected four sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. "We got to stop the run, that is a sense of pride. But sacking the quarterback is like dessert, it is like a treat."
And the Giants feasted on Moore and the Panthers' offense with more vigor than Rex Ryan ordering his troops to go get a snack.
Carolina's only points of the second half came on a Giants special-teams gaffe that ended up in a safety in the fourth quarter. The Panthers managed just 72 total net yards in the second half.
"That second half was truly fun," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who had two quarterback hits, one fumble recovery and one fiery pregame talk to the defense. "That's how I remember the Big Blue defense playing."
But Fewell doesn't want the Giants' defense to be as good as its predecessors. He wants it to be "mo' better."
The defense will have to be much better next week when the Giants visit Peyton Manning in Indianapolis on Sunday night. And that means Fewell will have to come up with a better game plan.
"Next week Kenny Phillips might be the defensive end," Cofield said. "I wouldn't put it past him especially with the passing game like the Colts have. We just have to wait and see what he breaks out. I am sure it will be something intricate and something that is good for that scenario."
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