Pat Shurmur coaches during first half against New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium.

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Keidel: Giants Facing Early Season Must-Win Game In Week 5

Big Blue Will Need To Bring Its A-Game To Stop Newton, Panthers

Jason Keidel
October 05, 2018 - 2:35 pm

The Giants are perfecting the art of losing games they could have won without divine intervention. Last week they kept the Saints' offense in relative check until the gassed defense cracked and Alvin Kamara darted through it, leaving Big Blue with a 1-3 record. With each loss, the G-Men are tempting fate, history, and logic. 

And now they visit the ornery confines of Carolina to play the Panthers, led by their hulking, all-world QB, Cam Newton. If the Giants had to worry about Drew Brees dissecting them with his arm, they must now worry about a quarterback built like a linebacker, runs like a halfback, and throws like Nolan Ryan. After three games, Newton has already accounted for eight touchdowns (five passing, three rushing).  

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The Panthers are not just the home team, they are refreshed, playing their first game in 14 days after their bye in Week 4. Not only must the Giants worry about Newton's binary abilities on the field, they also have to worry about stopping the best running game in the NFL. Behind Newton will be Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers' version of Saquon Barkley, who can gash you rushing or catching the ball, with 428 yards from scrimmage (including 157 yards on 22 catches) after just three games. 

The Panthers pound the ball to the tune of 166 yards per game, tops in the NFL. McCaffrey (5.9) and C.J. Anderson (6.3) average around six yards per carry, to go along with Newton's 4.9 average per rush. 

Not good news for the Giants, who sport the fourth-worst rushing defense in the league, yielding 126 yards on the ground per game. Carolina also has a tidy plus-4 turnover ratio, while the Giants have only created three turnovers all season, despite playing one more game than the Panthers. 

If the Giants want any objective hopes of playing in January, they need to beat the Panthers and avoid the 1-4 roadblock that would be too tall to hurdle. And NFL history, like most history, is a heady or haunting reminder. 

>>MORE: Vernon Ruled Out For Week 5

The Kansas City Chiefs started the 2015 season with a 1-5 record and made the playoffs, as did the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals. But these Giants don't seem to have the talent or temerity to match that feat. At 2-3, the Giants would be one game from the slim comfort of a .500 record, with a chance to at least climb the rungs of relevance. At 1-4, they would have to join an exclusive group to get back on their cleats.  

Since the NFL expanded its playoff format in 1990 to fit 12 teams, there are 16 clubs that were three games under .500 after Week 5 and still made the playoffs. Big Blue's MetLife roommates, Gang Green, did it in 2002 after starting 2-5. It may sound like a robust group, but 16 teams in 28 years is hardly a hearty bunch. (Coincidently, Cam Newton and the 2014 Panthers were 5-8-1 and still won the NFC South.)

And there were different, if not magical, circumstances that led some of those feisty franchises to hike all the way up the playoff mountain. The 1996 Jaguars had a young, athletic QB in Mark Brunell, and Tom Coughlin in the first years of his fabulous NFL coaching career. The 2004 Packers still had Brett Favre in his prime. The 2008 Chargers - the first NFL team to make the playoffs despite never having a winning record at any point in the regular-season - still had Philip Rivers in his prime and Hall of Fame RB LaDainian Tomlinson posting his final thousand-yard season. Most bizarre, the 2011 Broncos rode the biblical wave of Tim Tebow into January, and even beat the heavily favored, 12-4 Steelers in the playoffs. A year later, the 2012 Redskins rode their rookie QB, RG3, before he blew out his knee and had his pocket passing game exposed. 

>>MORE: Shurmur On WFAN: 'Offensive Line Played Their Best Game'

Whom among the Giants will shock us with his heart and hardihood? With all the high-grade skill positions on offense, Big Blue has still gone 36 consecutive games without scoring at least 30 points.  It helps that the Giants, who have suffered a slew of injuries this young season, should get a gaggle of gamers back on the field, particularly on defense. 

Versatile LB Olivier Vernon will be watching from the sidelines for the fifth consecutive week, but CB Eli Apple looks set to make his return to the field. Also, one of Eli Manning's favorite targets, WR Sterling Shepard, is expected to suit up in Carolina, as well as Cody Latimer. And even the speedy, second-year TE Evan Engram is making progress towards getting back on the gridiron. 

The Giants will need everybody and bounce to go their way to get a vital road victory, and the defense will have to play like superheroes to keep Cam Newton from doing his Superman dance in the end zone. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel