EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One priority down, at least one to go.
One night in, the Carolina Panthers gave indications of fixing the most drastic of their problems from 2006, but at least one significant one remained.
The starting offense looked polished during the Panthers' 24-21 win over New York at Giants Stadium, and the first defense wasn't offensive in its short night of work.
The starters only had one full drive, but they scored a touchdown, leading to hope after a lackluster last season.
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"Offensively, we're trying to make a statement this year and be more balanced and more successful," said wide receiver Steve Smith, who snagged the first touchdown pass of the night. "It was really good for us to put together a drive like that. We mixed it up with the passes, the screens and the running players.
"It was very good, and it really starts the season off right."
However, Carolina's special teams (one of last year's sorest spots) still needs work after remaking the unit which was last in the league in both punt and kick returns last season.
They allowed a big kickoff return early and rookie returner Ryne Robinson fumbled one out of bounds during a lackluster night, and his special teams teammates threw in penalties on returns for good measure.
That didn't really impact the outcome of the sparsely attended game, since the offense stole the show throughout the night.
Reserve wideout Taye Biddle caught two passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns and backup quarterback David Carr looked efficient, but the starters looked the sharpest.
Playing without backup running back DeAngelo Williams (who was held out because of a stiff ankle), the Panthers ground game looked strong in the debut of new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
DeShaun Foster finished with five carries for 62 yards and Nick Goings added 11 carries for 50 yards, giving them 112 yards on the ground and a 17-14 lead when most of the significant players were gone at halftime.
The Panthers jumped out front early, stopping the Giants offensive on four plays before the starting offense commenced on a 13-play, 81-yard drive.
Highlighted by several nice runs by Foster and Goings, Jake Delhomme capped it with a 5-yard strike to Smith for a 7-0 lead with five minutes, four seconds left in the first quarter.
"That's the mentality we're trying to have this year," Foster said. "We want to get out there and start fast and finish even faster. It was nice to put together a nice drive and cap it off with a touchdown. Now we just need to keep it going.
"We just need to stay consistent. We need to keep making strides and keep working to get better through the preseason."
It marked quite the contrast from last year, when the Panthers averaged 16.9 points per game (27th in the league), 103.7 rushing yards (24th) and were last in the league in third-down conversions, leading to an overhaul in the coaching staff and scheme, but not personnel.
"It was huge," Delhomme said of the early success. "That was something we talked about all week as players, because this is a new system for us. We did a lot of new things out there and it was nice. We made some plays, we converted third downs and we ran the ball effectively. When we run the ball well, it really helps our passing game.
"It's still early right now, but we just want to keep getting better with what we're doing."
First-round draft pick Jon Beason had an up-and-down debut. Working as the second-team weakside linebacker, and playing into the fourth quarter, Beason had moments but was manhandled on a Giants touchdown play, blocked completely out of his run lane by Giants tight end Darcy Johnson.
That's going to happen to the 6-foot, 237-pound Beason, particularly while he's learning, but they hope his speed begins to pay dividends after he catches up with his teammates. He missed the first eight days of training camp during a contract holdout. He was able to chase a few plays downfield and made a few nice open-field tackles, but it was hardly a dominant debut.
The Giants didn't have far to go to tie the game after the Panthers methodical first drive, with Derrick Ward returning the kickoff 67 yards to the Panthers 25-yard line, giving Eli Manning a short field to work with.
It took them six plays to travel the distance, with tight end Jeremy Shockey working a crease between linebacker Adam Seward and safety Deke Cooper in the end zone for a 7-yard score which tied the game with 1:57 left in the first.
The Panthers went up 10-7 in the second quarter on John Kasay's 24-yard field goal, which came after a 10-play, 64-yard drive stalled. But the Giants responded with a pair of busted plays, going up 14-10 on Derrick Ward's 5-yard burst with 0:54 left in the half.
But Carr didn't need all that time, leading them 73 yards in just four plays, ending a nice two-minute drill with a 23-yard touchdown pass to a mysteriously wide open Biddle.
The second-year wideout then followed with an 85-yard touchdown from Brett Basanez to open the third quarter, giving the Panthers a 24-14 lead with 13:25 left in the third.
The Giants cut it to within three when Jared Lorenzen hit Anthony Mix for a 10-yard score with 5:11 left in the third. Mix got behind cornerback Derrick Strait, who had no safety help coming over and was left helpless.
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