CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Eli Manning didn’t need a fourth-quarter comeback Thursday night.
The two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback, running back Andre Brown, wide receiver Ramses Barden and the rest of the New York Giants finished off the Carolina Panthers way before that.
Brown ran for a career-high 113 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL start to help the Giants rout the Panthers 36-7.
Four days after rallying from 14 points down to beat Tampa Bay, the Giants dominated the first half, scoring on their first four possessions to build a 20-0 lead.
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The defending champion Giants (2-1) were without three starters, but it hardly mattered.
Brown — waived by five different teams — including the Panthers — since coming into the league as a fourth-round draft pick in 2009 — got his chance Thursday night when Ahmad Bradshaw sat out with a neck injury.
Brown said he thought about getting cut by the Panthers before the game — and it inspired him.
“I was walking into the stadium and I have to go by the spot where I parked my car,” Brown said. “I felt a little fire, no doubt. I’m so happy to come out here. It really humbled me. It really shows that everything is not guaranteed. You know, I’m just going to ride this wave. Hopefully, it’s a long wave.”
Barden is hoping to ride that same wave.
Barden caught nine passes for a career-high 138 yards in his first NFL start. He played in place of Hakeem Nicks.
Of course, it helps that the guy throwing you the ball is named Manning. He completed 27 of 35 passes for 288 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
On the other side, second-year quarterback Cam Newton struggled all night and was pressured into three interceptions. The Panthers (1-2) had five turnovers, including two by returner Joe Adams.
Newton had no luck running the read option against the Giants. He was held to 6 yards rushing a week after running for a career-high 71 yards against the Saints.
“We got some licks on him, when he kept the ball, and that’s something that was lacking last week,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “You have to be disciplined. You have to have people in the right spots, or he’ll take full advantage of it.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera likened the loss to a lesson you learn from your big brother.
“They came in and slapped us around and dragged us to the ground a little bit,” Rivera said. “Hopefully, we learn from it a little bit. Hopefully, we learn from it and, hopefully, we don’t like it and we come back focused.”
Mixing run and pass, the Giants dominated the opening half, outgaining the Panthers 303-125.
Manning completed 19 of 25 passes for 208 yards in the first half, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett to cap the Giants’ game-opening drive and set the tone. It capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive and marked the third straight game the Panthers have given up a touchdown on an opponent’s first drive.
For Rivera and the Panthers, the first half was a nightmare.
“When you put yourself in a hole like that, it’s tough trying to claw and scratch yourself back up,” Rivera said. “And that’s really what happened. That’s the type of game they want you to be in. That’s trouble. When you get behind, they can cut those guys loose on the pass rush.”
Brown repeatedly bounced off tacklers, and Barden had little trouble getting open against a Carolina defense that failed to pressure Manning.
Brown ran 13 times for 71 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay and surpassed that total by the end of the first quarter with 77 yards on seven.
Barden had 123 yards on seven catches at halftime.
Before Thursday night, the fourth-year receiver from Cal Poly had never managed more than nine catches for 94 yards receiving in a season.
“At this level, you never know when you’re going to get an opportunity, you’ve got to be prepared for it,” Manning said. “Andre Brown is a great example. He’s a guy we drafted, he bounced around, and we brought him back. He was on the bubble to make the team, and here you go. Ahmad (Bradshaw) gets hurt, and he ran great, he pass-protected.
“He did get off to a bit of a shaky start. He went left when he was supposed to run right on the first play. We had a little talk and got him settled down, and after that, he did very, very well.”
Any hopes that the Panthers would turn things around in the second half were slowed when rookie returner Adams fumbled trying to catch the opening kickoff, resulting in another field goal for Lawrence Tynes.
Tynes finished with five field goals on the night.
The Panthers didn’t get on the board until midway through the third quarter when Newton leaped over the pile from 1 yard out.