CHARLOTTE – With several defensive backs injured, the Panthers entered Sunday's game against the Giants hoping for a strong showing from their defensive front.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn admitted that New York quarterback Eli Manning "had his way" when the Giants defeated Carolina 36-7 last season at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers had their way this time.
"Our front four had to play well," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It was outstanding."
Carolina equaled a team record with seven sacks in the 38-0 shutout victory.
The secondary – which featured rookie Robert Lester starting his first NFL game at strong safety, rookie Melvin White playing in his first NFL game at nickelback and cornerback Drayton Florence starting just days after being signed – spent much of the afternoon running with receivers before raucous cheers from the crowd indicated another sack of Manning.
"Those guys up front were hunting," Munnerlyn said.
And Manning had nowhere to hide.
Defensive end Greg Hardy led the relentless pass-rushing effort with three sacks, which matched his career high.
"I was in my zone," Hardy said. "I felt I had to show up."
The other sacks came from defensive end Charles Johnson, linebacker Thomas Davis and rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short.
In short, it was a feeding frenzy.
"When anybody gets a sack we're excited about it, because we're putting pressure on the quarterback and we're helping out the secondary," Hardy said.
And as for that patchwork secondary, it limited Manning – who threw for 812 yards through the first two weeks – to just 119 passing yards.
"Everyone rose to the challenge," said Mike Mitchell, who started at free safety in place of Charles Godfrey, who suffered a season-ending injury last week at Buffalo.
White recorded his first career interception when he picked off Manning's pass for wide receiver Victor Cruz in the third quarter.
Lester notched his first career interception when he hauled in an errant pass from backup quarterback Curtis Painter in the closing moments of the game.
The two undrafted rookies also combined to force a third turnover, as White stripped the ball from wide receiver Louis Murphy and Lester recovered.
"The group that really stepped up was the defensive backfield," Rivera said. "Robert Lester was a guy that we got from Alabama as a free agent, and he comes from a big program. So this was not too big for him. He played like it."
"Melvin White playing corner for us on the other side, getting the interception – that was outstanding.
"Just watching those guys play, it was outstanding."
And as fun as that dominant defensive performance was for Rivera to watch, it was even better for the defensive players who physically took control of the game and walked off the field without giving up a single point.
"It's an adrenaline rush like you've never had before," Hardy explained. "You get motivation, you get the intensity from the crowd – there's just so much stuff that comes into play and everybody is rallying. And once that starts, it's so hard to stop."
"We're going to keep feeding," Hardy added. "We're going to keep eating."