EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There were moments of brilliance but others of frustration. There were times when Carolina looked polished but others where the team seemed raw -- sometimes within seconds of each other.
The final minute of Monday night's 24-17 preseason-opening loss to the New York Giants encapsulated those extremes. In one breath, Hunter Cantwell hit Jason Chery for a 31-yard touchdown pass that set up Andrew Davie's game-tying two-point conversion. In the next, New York defensive end Tommie Hill was running 18 yards to the end zone with a fumble for the winning touchdown on the game's final play after snagging the ball in midair following a hit on Cantwell by Leger Douzable.
"Kind of an interesting ending," head coach John Fox said.
The wild finish was in contrast to a quiet opening act for the first-team offense, which finished with no points in three series.
Quarterback Jake Delhomme finished with 38 yards on 5-of-9 passing and a 66.0 passer rating. His first two passes fell incomplete, forcing the Panthers into a three-and-out, and his second series was marred by a sack and fumble when he was hit by Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. But Jordan Gross fell on the loose football, and Delhomme began settling in, completing three of his next four passes, including a 17-yard, third-and-9 strike to wide receiver Kenneth Moore.
"As an offense, it was great to get out there and get some work," said quarterback Jake Delhomme. "We didn't start as fast as we would have liked but we did some nice things. We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go to get where we need to be."
But the first-team offense could not find the end zone, only getting as far as midfield on its third and final series.
"The first time out is always a little sloppy. I thought we played OK in spurts, but it would have been nice to put points on the board," Gross said.
The first unit left the field with a 7-0 deficit after the Giants drove 77 yards in six plays to a 19-yard Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run after Carolina's first-team defense forced a three-and-out on its opening series of work. The score that culminated the series saw Bradshaw sprint right into the open field, breaking a pair of tackles en route to the end zone.
"We came out a little sluggish," cornerback Chris Gamble said. "We've just got to step it up next week in practice and work on the little things."
The biggest jolt of the first half for Carolina came from linebacker James Anderson, who started for an injured Thomas Davis and notched a second-quarter sack. But his biggest play came on special teams with 2:31 left in the second quarter when Anderson burst past David Tyree and blocked Jeff Feagles' punt at the New York 14-yard-line. Feagles caught up to the ball and batted it out of the end zone for a safety, bringing the Panthers back within 7-2.
"They must have mis-blocked it (on the line), because we didn't have our block called," Fox said.
The Panthers' second-quarter effort was ultimately doomed by turnovers. Carolina gave away the football three times in a four-snap span, with two fumbles bracketed by a Stoney Woodson interception of a Josh McCown pass. The first two giveaways didn't cost the Panthers on the scoreboard, but the third one did, as New York running back Danny Ware took a screen pass and sprinted 36 yards through the Carolina defense for the score, bursting through two tackles along the way.
Ware's score, which came 28 seconds before halftime, gave the Giants a 14-2 halftime advantage. But the mid-point pause seemed to revive the Panthers, who took less than three and half minutes to trim the deficit from 12 points to five.
The rapid rally began when Charles Johnson flushed Giants quarterback Andre Woodson outside, forcing an errant throw that Quinton Teal intercepted, returning 21 yards to the New York 30-yard-line. Running back Mike Goodson took over from there, first picking up 16 yards on a left-side pitchout from Matt Moore, then scooting the final 14 yards to the left side after shaking out of containment in the backfield.
The touchdown drew the Panthers within 14-9, but the score was sullied by a taunting penalty against Goodson.
"I was told by Skip (assistant head coach/running backs Jim Skipper) not to do that anymore," Goodson said.
Goodson's night, which included a pair of second-quarter fumbles, paralled his team's as a whole -- some success from which to build; some struggle from which to learn.
"He's a work in progress," said running back DeAngelo Williams. "That's all rookies when they come into the league. He definitely has a lot of potential. I like the way he hit the corner and took it into the end zone. But we've got to work on his celebration."
There's plenty of time for that -- and for refining everything else before the Philadelphia Eagles fly into Charlotte for the regular-season opener Sept. 13.
• Gary Barnidge started at tight end, playing throughout the first quarter and briefly into the second. He finished with two receptions for eight yards.
• Rookie defensive end Everette Brown made his debut, coming into the game on the Panthers' third defensive play as the Panthers went into a pass-rush alignment. Brown lined up at left end, while Julius Peppers remained at right end and Damione Lewis and Tyler Brayton worked on the inside at the tackle slots. Brown also had a third-quarter sack, which came when he bull-rushed Giants left tackle Will Beatty to gain space, then ran around him for the blindside drop of quarterback Andre Woodson
• After permitting a pair of first-half touchdowns, Carolina's defense settled down and began dominating in the second half, holding the New York offense to a field goal and forcing four three-and-outs in eight possessions, including one in the final minute of the game
• A pair of rookies opened the game on returns for the Panthers - Goodson on kickoffs and Captain Munnerlyn on punts. Munnerlyn handled punt and kickoff return work during his years at South Carolina.
• Cantwell compiled the highest passer rating among Panthers quarterbacks with a 118.2 mark, completing four-of-eight passes for 67 yards and one touchdown.
• Middle linebacker Dan Connor led Carolina in stops with eight. Jeremy Leman, who seemed ubiquitous at times in the second half, was right on his heels with seven stops.
• Chery's touchdown catch gave him the team lead in receiving yardage for the night, with 35 yards on two catches. His fellow Louisiana-Lafayette product Delhomme made sure to retrieve the football as a souvenir.
• Six Panthers did not play: offensive lineman C.J. Davis, linebackers Thomas Davis and Landon Johnson, safety Nate Salley, wide receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart. Of those players, only Smith practiced this past weekend, working on Friday and Saturday after hurting his shoulder during practice the evening of Aug. 10.