George: Does Panthers-Giants rematch await?

Thomas George reports from the Panthers-Giants game. Check back later for his complete column.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If the Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants are, indeed, the two best teams in the NFC, both showed why Sunday night at Giants Stadium. And why this scrap likely was only a prelude.

It took sweeping, gashing runs and finesse catches and punishing hits and wind-blown kicks and an extra period of football for the two teams to untangle, to separate. The Giants prevailed 34-28 in overtime in a grinding victory on a chilly night that gave New York the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and, thus, home-field advantage throughout.

Carolina, which has the inside lane to the No. 2 seed, has every intention of coming back here for an NFC championship battle. If, indeed, the Giants make it there, who would be surprised if the Panthers did, too? This clash might serve simply as a set-up, a hint of things to come between the Panthers and Giants, two beastly teams who knocked each other cold all night all over the field.

It was the Giants (12-3) who withered it all.

The Panthers (11-4) know that with a play here or there, they could have won it. That in another meeting, they could close the gap.

Derrick Ward killed the Panthers late and in overtime. Ward had runs of 51 yards and 14 yards on the Giants’ winning drive. Brandon Jacobs capped it with the winning 2-yard score.

With four seconds left in regulation, the Panthers had a chance to change everything.

But Carolina kicker John Kasay’s 50-yard field-goal attempt drifted left in the whipping, driving wind and gave the Giants life. Another shot. And that was all the Giants needed.

Kasay had missed only one field-goal attempt this season. He entered having made 24 of 25 attempts.

These teams had met only three previous times in the regular season. But they tangled this time in the kind of attack, counter-attack, colorful and physical battle that is routine fare within the NFC East. Carolina coach John Fox — who was New York’s defensive coordinator from 1997 through 2001 — has built the Panthers in the image of his Giants experience. Big, burly defense. Big-play offensive potential. Pound-it running game.

For much of this matchup, it was the big backs from each team who delivered most. Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams entered averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The Giants’ Jacobs strutted in averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Williams through four quarters had gained 108 rushing yards and rambled for touchdown runs of 13, 5, 1 and 30 yards. Jacobs gained 82 yards over the same span and scored on runs of 2 and 1 yards. And he scored the winner in overtime.

Both scored the fourth-quarter touchdowns that sent the game into overtime. The Giants were forced to convert a two-point conversion and did — an Eli Manning pass to wide receiver Domenik Hixon — that tied the score at 28 with 3:24 left.

Then Kasay missed.

And so did the Panthers at winning the No. 1 seed.

But the Panthers know they can now play for a return date. And they look like a solid team that will do its part to reach the NFC Championship Game. All the Giants have to do is win one home playoff game to get there.

I smell a rematch. A repeat.

I think the Panthers and Giants do, too.

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