Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith combined for an opening-drive touchdown pass and receiver Taye Biddle caught touchdown passes of 23 and 85 yards to lead the Panthers to a 24-21 victory on Saturday night in the matchup of teams looking to rebound from .500 seasons.
For the Panthers, the game was a positive. Their offense played well for new coordinator Jeff Davidson, and their first team defense look good in limited action.
"Things were smooth and quick," said Delhomme, who went 5-for-8 for 30 yards. "We didn't waste any time. We did a lot of things at the line of scrimmage."
For the Giants, the preseason opener was a preview of what life may be like without Strahan, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end who is holding out of training camp while he decides whether to play a 15th NFL season.
The performance was ugly, even taking into consideration that New York is adjusting to new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's aggressive system.
"Things didn't go the way we wanted it to," Pro Bowl linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "Opening up the preseason by letting the other team score a touchdown on their first drive is not good. We've got a lot of work to do. We are still learning this new defense, but that's no excuse."
The Panthers went 81 yards in 13 plays on their first possession with DeShaun Foster ripping off several good cutback runs that eventually set up Delhomme's 5-yard TD toss to Smith, the catalyst of the Carolina offense.
"It was a good start," said Panthers coach John Fox, who is under pressure after missing the playoffs last season. "The guys were working hard and they had a confidence level. It was good to see."
John Kasay added a 24-yard field goal for Carolina in the second quarter, capping a 10-play, 64-yard drive.
Biddle's touchdown catches came in a 1:42 span that bridged the end of the first half and the start of the second. He was wide open for a go-ahead 23-yard touchdown catch from David Carr with :07 left in the second quarter for a 17-14 halftime lead. He also split a seam in the defense for an 85-yard catch and run on a Brett Basanez pass 1:35 into the third quarter.
On both plays, Giants free agent safety Craig Dahl was left chasing Biddle, a second-year player who had three catches in two games for 37 yards last season.
Eli Manning threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey late in the first quarter. The score was set up by a 67-yard kickoff return by Derrick Ward right after the Smith touchdown.
"It was good to take advantage of the great field position and get a touchdown," said Manning, who was 3-of-5 for 27 yards.
Ward also put New York ahead 14-10 with a 5-yard run with 54 seconds left in the half.
Carr, the former No. 1 overall draft pick seeing his first action for Carolina, was 6-of-8 for 83 yards. He drove the Panthers 73 yards in four plays, aided by a personal foul against Dahl for a late hit. Carr hit Ryne Robinson for 24 yards before connecting with Biddle.
After Biddle's second touchdown catch, the Giants closed to lead to 24-21 midway through the third quarter on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jared Lorenzen to Anthony Mix.
Foster shredded the Giants' defense for 62 yards on five carries, while Nick Goings had 50 yards on 11 carries.
The Panthers did an excellent job of going at Giants strong side linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who is making the transition from defensive end. He was caught out of position on several of the cutback runs.
"It was a good learning experience," Kiwanuka said. "I still have some work to do, but I feel good about getting the first live action under my belt. The more and more live action I get, the better it will be for me, the more comfortable I will become. It wasn't as good as I wanted to be, but obviously my goal is to just get better and better each time I come out and play the position."