CHARLOTTE – Panthers left tackle and six-time team captain Jordan Gross admitted he was unusually nervous before Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
He knew how important Week 3 was after an 0-2 start. He knew how badly teammates, coaches and fans needed to experience a win.
Sunday's 38-0 demolition of the Giants at Bank of America Stadium extinguished those nerves, and now the Panthers enter the bye week full of confidence, energy and quite simply, relief.
"This was huge for us, to be able to win like this," Gross said. "I know it's only a one-game difference, but 1-2 is so much better than 0-3, especially going into a bye, especially with everything that's happened in the last year here.
"I'm going to enjoy it. It was awesome."
Carolina dominated every aspect in the fifth shutout in franchise history and it's the first shutout since 2008. The 38-point margin of victory also represented the largest in team history.
"Now we have something to build on," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Now we have a chance to keep rolling."
The Panthers outgained New York 402 yards to 150 and sacked quarterback Eli Manning seven times, tying a team record.
"(A shutout) is hard to come by in the NFL," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "We did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage, obviously, and the front four, those guys did awesome."
There were some nervous moments for the Panthers in the first half.
On fourth-and-inches from the Giants' 2-yard line, fullback Mike Tolbert bounced right and charged into the end zone to give Carolina a 7-0 first quarter lead.
Then, following a Giants' three-and-out, Steve Weatherford's punt bounced off Richie Brockel, and New York recovered at its 38-yard line. But the Carolina defense was unfazed, promptly forcing another three-and-out.
Early in the second quarter, quarterback Cam Newton's pass for wide receiver Brandon LaFell was picked off by cornerback Aaron Ross, who returned it to the Carolina 17-yard line.
A holding call on Giants left tackle Will Beatty negated a touchdown run and a seven-yard sack by Hardy forced New York to eventually attempt a 38-yard field goal, which Josh Brown missed wide left.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano drilled a 53-yard field goal to cap the ensuing possession before the Carolina offense looked to add to the 10-point lead with 3:45 left in the first half.
Newton completed five passes on the 13-play, 65-yard scoring drive, which ended with LaFell running a corner route and hauling in a 16-yard touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
At halftime, the Panthers had allowed just 18 yards and held a 17-0 advantage – the third-consecutive game in which they led at halftime.
And this time, Carolina made sure that lead stayed well intact.
"What happened last week, what happened the week before, with us leading at halftime; we just wanted to be thorough throughout this game," Newton said. "That's what we did."
The Panthers received the kickoff to start the second half and picked up right where they left off, executing a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Newton found LaFell for a 20-yard touchdown to give Carolina a 24-0 lead.
"Brandon LaFell stepped up, running unbelievable routes," Newton said. "When his number was called, he made plays."
Suddenly, a tight game was getting out of hand.
Said Gross: "It was 10-0 before those two drives, and a 14-point swing before their offense gets back on the field is tough to deal with. We talked about that at halftime. We had to come out and score seven points, not a field goal."
After rookie cornerback Melvin White, playing in his first NFL game, recorded his first career interception, Newton powered his way into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown with 6:58 left in the third quarter to make it 31-0.
Wide receiver Ted Ginn blew the top off the game and the Giants coverage at the start of the fourth quarter, running under a deep pass from Newton for a wide-open 47-yard touchdown.
"I'm happy for those guys in the locker room. They deserve it," Rivera said. "These guys have been through a lot. They have fought and fought and given everything they can to win football games.
"They are going to continue to do that, because we expect to go out and play well."