Halfback Tshimanga Biakabutuka played for the first time. Guard Greg Skrepenak did, too. And cornerback Eric Davis returned after missing two games because of a foot injury. With the team virtually full strength, Carolina (2-2) smashed the New York Giants 34-7 at Giants Stadium.
The Panthers did have bad news, though. Tackle Matt Campbell, who was switched from tight end and won the starting left tackle job, suffered a broken left leg on a touchdown run by Dino Philyaw in the first half. His prognosis is uncertain, but he could be out for the season.
Carolina used Mark Dennis, who started last season at right tackle, at left tackle after Campbell was injured. Blake Brockermeyer switched from right tackle to left in the second half as the Panthers experimented with different combinations on the line.
Brockermeyer was one of only a few Carolina regulars who played much in the second half.
Overall, the night was a success for the Panthers. Carolina jumped to a 21-0 halftime lead as both its offense and defense sparkled in the first half. The crowd of 45,713 booed the Giants off the field at halftime.
In its two previous preseason games, Carolina already had looked much better offensively than it did last season, and on Friday, Biakabutuka added a new spark.
Philyaw started and played the entire first series. On the second series, Biakabutuka showed why Carolina made him the No. 8 pick overall in April's NFL draft.
On his first carry, the rookie from Michigan slashed up the middle for 5 yards. The Panthers kept feeding him the ball as they moved downfield. He carried seven times in the drive for 27 yards and helped push the ball to the Giants' 4-yard line.
From there, quarterback Kerry Collins drilled a pass to tight end Wesley Walls in the back of the end zone, and Carolina went up 7-0.
Biakabutuka carried eight times for 32 yards overall. He did not play in the second half.
The Panthers' defense took over next. The starters put pressure on Giants quarterback Dave Brown, the former Duke star, throughout the first half. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 110 yards but threw two interceptions and no TD passes.
Shawn King, a second-year defensive end, came in on passing downs and sacked Brown twice. King also set up a touchdown in the second half when he snared the legs of backup quarterback Stan White. About to be dropped for a safety, White tried to throw the ball away. J.C. Price intercepted for Carolina and dashed 3 yards for the score.
Outside linebacker Lamar Lathon and Kevin Greene also combined for their best pressure of the preseason, constantly harassing Brown in the first half. That pressure quickly forced Brown into two mistakes on brilliant defensive calls.
On a third-and-4 play, cornerback Tyrone Poole was running with a tight end in motion when he stopped and blitzed up a gap in the middle of the Giants' offensive line. Brown, stunned to see the cornerback charging toward him, tried to thread the ball to a running back, but veteran linebacker Sam Mills, who was also blitzing, reached out with his left hand and grabbed the ball. Mills ran 36 yards and scored -- the same distance he covered against the New York Jets last year after intercepting a shovel pass.
New York's next possession ended in disaster, too. On a third-and-2 play, Carolina defensive end Mark Thomas dropped into pass coverage -- an unusual move the Panthers use sometimes to confuse quarterbacks. Brown didn't see Thomas and tried to flip a quick pass to halfback Keith Elias as Elias flared out of the backfield. Thomas stepped in, made the interception and ran 40 yards to the New York 14.
Philyaw scored on a 2-yard run to give Carolina a 21-0 lead with 4:29 to play in the half.
The kicker bounced back with 43- and 41-yarders in the second half.
Collins finished with 53 yards passing while completing six of 11 throws. He had one touchdown pass and no interceptions. It was the first preseason game in which Collins did not throw an interception.