Reeling from a pair of ugly season-opening losses and facing a hole that's proved nearly impossible to overcome, the New York Giants can only hope a Week 3 matchup with the Carolina Panthers goes as well as it did in 2012.
The Giants visit the Panthers for the second consecutive year, this time with both teams winless and already trying to salvage their seasons.
New York (0-2) fell 41-23 to Denver last week, getting plagued by turnovers for the second consecutive game. The Giants, who had six giveaways in a 36-31 loss to Dallas on Sept. 8, added four more against the Broncos.
All of them came from Eli Manning, whose four interceptions gave him an NFL-leading seven.
The inability to protect the ball is only one of the Giants' major problems. The running game was again nonexistent last week, managing 23 yards on 19 carries as New York fell to last in the league with 73 rushing yards.
The Giants have also allowed a league-high 77 points and have only two sacks. Perhaps worst of all, at least one key veteran sees something even more critical missing.
"I don't know where the lack of emotion comes from, especially during the course of a game," safety and captain Antrel Rolle said. "This is something you love to do, this is something you should have passion about doing and the one thing I say, you can always control your effort and you can control how you approach the game."
New York needs to find that element quickly if it wants to have a realistic chance of making the playoffs. The last time a team made the postseason after starting 0-2 was 2008, and no team opening 0-3 has qualified for the playoffs since 1998.
"In this situation, you've got to have a little sense of urgency," said Manning, last in the league in passer rating at 75.9. "I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If you make it a must-win, sometimes that's what you need to be put in those situations. It is a big game. We're 0-2 right now. We're looking for our first win. Guys just have to keep their heads up and look at the good things and look at where we've got to make improvements."
Manning and his teammates are hoping history repeats itself Sunday, almost exactly one year after the Giants were able to make plenty of improvements in a Week 3 trip to Charlotte amid a similarly shaky start.
New York came into the game 1-1 after a disheartening season-opening loss to Dallas and a comeback win over Tampa Bay, then routed the Panthers 36-7 that Sept. 20. Manning threw for 288 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and the Giants rushed for 125.
The defense, which had given up 51 points in the first two weeks, allowed only 327 yards and intercepted a frustrated Cam Newton three times.
Carolina (0-2) hasn't gotten better results than New York so far, scoring 30 points, though the Panthers have been more competitive. They led Seattle in the fourth quarter of their opener before losing 12-7 and suffered a heartbreaking 24-23 defeat to Buffalo last week on a two-yard touchdown pass from EJ Manuel with 2 seconds remaining.
That capped an 80-yard drive during which the Bills had no timeouts.
"It's time to get over the hump," coach Ron Rivera said. "We've been through this - and that is the thing that is disheartening. You'd like to believe that we've gotten to the point where we've learned from these things and now it's about getting things done."
Since Rivera took over in 2011, the Panthers have lost 10 games in which they've held a lead in the fourth quarter - tied with Philadelphia for most in the league.
Newton was sacked six times Sunday, and he's struggled in the early going with an 86.4 rating.
"With us being in so many tight games, you would think we would know by now, but it's still a learning and maturing thing for us," Newton told the team's official website. "In tight situations, we have to somehow make a play.
"We will scratch and claw and find a way to win games."
The defense has allowed 403.0 yards per game, including 293.5 passing, and now must play without Charles Godfrey for the rest of the season after the starting free safety tore his right Achilles tendon last Sunday.
One area in which Carolina has succeeded is running the ball, as the Panthers are among the NFL leaders with 259 rushing yards. DeAngelo Williams has led the way with 171, and he'll face a Giants team that gave up 109 and two touchdowns on the ground last week.
New York has won two straight and four of the last five meetings, including the past two road matchups.
The Giants will be without cornerback Corey Webster due to a hip injury. Veteran Aaron Ross is expected to play for Webster, who had started the last 34 games.
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