Panthers face Giants in Thursday night matchup

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have been waiting anxiously for the opportunity to showcase themselves in front of a national audience, a stage on which Eli Manning and the New York Giants have enjoyed a wealth of both experience and success in recent years. The two teams will also be aiming to build off extremely important wins in their last outing when they take the field at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium for a Thursday night showdown that will launch the Week 3 schedule of this 2012 NFL season. Carolina earned its long-awaited return to notoriety thanks largely to the talents and charisma of Newton, the league’s reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year who established a new season standard for first-year quarterbacks by amassing 4,051 passing yards and accounting for 35 touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) during a dynamic debut for the top overall selection of the 2011 draft. Manning, himself a former No. 1 pick, and the Giants certainly carry considerable credentials as well. The incredibly clutch quarterback led New York to a Super Bowl victory for the second time in five seasons with last February’s 21-17 ousting of the New England Patriots in Indianapolis, and capped a stellar 2011 campaign in which he threw for nearly 5,000 yards by garnering Most Valuable Player honors in the title bout. Those achievements have made the Giants a natural fit for Carolina’s first prime-time home game since November of 2009. “This is the national spotlight,” exclaimed Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. “You want to talk about bright lights and big stage? This is as big as it gets. You’re playing the defending champs, you’re playing on Thursday night. You are the prime-time game. This is great for us.” Manning comes into the contest off another noteworthy performance, with the veteran triggerman racking up a career-best 510 passing yards and three touchdowns to spark a 25-point fourth-quarter barrage that propelled the Giants to a wild 41-34 win over Tampa Bay Sunday at MetLife Stadium. New York rallied from a 27-13 deficit late in the third quarter, a hole Manning helped create by tossing three first-half interceptions, and generated a whopping 604 total yards on the same Buccaneers defense that clamped down on Carolina’s usually potent rushing attack in a 16-10 decision over the Panthers in Week 1. The majority of Manning’s damage came on connections to wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, with the outstanding duo combining for 378 yards and two touchdowns on 21 catches to help the Giants bounce back from a 24-17 home defeat to rival Dallas in the season opener. “No one wants to start 0-2,” said Manning afterward. “It’s a big win, and especially after the first half and playing poorly and last week not playing well, to get back to that level of playing good football, and that second half was really good. “We can do some things better, obviously, but 1/8getting3/8 some big-time plays and stepping up when we needed it — that was fun to have.” Nicks, however, aggravated an injury to a surgically repaired foot he had fractured during offseason workouts and will not play on Thursday. The Giants will also be without main running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who suffered a neck stinger in the Tampa Bay game, as well as wide receiver Domenik Hixon (concussion) and right tackle David Diehl (sprained knee). Carolina also rebounded strongly in a critical early home test this past weekend, topping the wayward New Orleans Saints by a 35-27 count behind a big effort from Newton and a pair of crucial interceptions of Drew Brees by the defense. A Panthers’ running game that was surprisingly stagnant in managing a paltry 10 yards on 13 attempts against the Bucs was firing on all cylinders on Sunday. Carolina compiled 219 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, with Newton setting a franchise record for a quarterback with 71 yards on 13 totes. Carolina did allow 163 rushing yards to the Saints, but will be going up against a Giants group that will have journeyman Andre Brown taking Bradshaw’s place. Brown has played for five teams in four pro seasons, which includes a one-week stint on the Panthers’ roster in 2010.