EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – The Carolina Panthers beat the New York Giants at their own game, in their own place.

Jessica Boullion
Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey hangs his head as New York falls to Carolina. (AP PHOTO)

Steve Smith scored a pair of touchdowns, and Carolina rattled Eli Manning into four turnovers to lead the Panthers to a 23-0 win over New York in the first round of the NFC playoffs yesterday.

The Panthers did it with a stout defense and a strong running game – the same principles the Giants used this season to win their first divisional title in five years.

Playing nearly as well as they did in their Super Bowl season two years ago, the Panthers (12-5) handed New York its first playoff shutout in 20 years.

“Everybody may say we’re a Super Bowl team – we’re not,” Smith cautioned. “All we are is a one-win playoff team.”

Manning threw three interceptions, then fumbled late in the game in front of a nearly empty Giants Stadium. Tiki Barber was held to a season-low 41 yards rushing, while the Giants managed just 109 yards total offense.

New York became the first home playoff team to be shut out since 1980, when the Los Angeles Rams blanked Tampa Bay.

It was exactly the performance expected from a John Fox-coached team. He and the Panthers seemed to be ahead of the Giants on almost every play in his return to the Meadowlands, where Fox spent five years as defensive coordinator before taking over Carolina in 2002.

“It was strange,” Barber said. “They were in our huddle a little bit. They kind of had us dissected and figured out, and we couldn’t get anything going consistently.”

DeShaun Foster ran for 151 yards by going straight at the Giants’ depleted linebacker corps, kick-starting a running game that has been spotty all year.

“We wanted to get out there and establish the run early,” Foster said. “That’s how you keep their players off the field. We were just able to do that and it worked out for us.”

Smith had 10 catches for 84 yards. He scored once on a 22-yard catch from Jake Delhomme, then ran a reverse in 12 yards for a second score.

But the game belonged to Carolina’s defense, which was insulted earlier in the week when Giant Osi Umenyiora said the Panthers had the second-best defensive ends in the NFL. The shot at Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker stung, and the entire unit responded.

Although Umenyiora and Michael Strahan combined for three sacks of Delhomme, Peppers and Rucker are the ones still playing.

“Taking away Tiki – he’s the thing that makes them go,” Peppers said. “We had to get a handle on him, we got a couple hits on Eli early. I think that kind of rattled him.”

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