X's and O's

Here is a breakdown, position by position, of how the Giants performed against the Panthers.

QUARTERBACKS

Eli Manning sold play-action well before firing a strike to WR Domenik Hixon for a two-point conversion that tied the game, 28-28, with 3:21 to play. Manning moved away from LDE Charles Johnson, rolled right and fired a deep pass across his body, long enough for a wide-open Hixon to catch it behind two Carolina DBs. Hixon's 40-yard reception moved the Giants to the Panthers' 18, four plays prior to John Carney's 32-yard FG early in the first quarter. Bottom Line: The backs stole the show, but Manning was efficient.

RUNNING BACKS

RB Derrick Ward recorded six long gains – 34, 22, 37, 51, 14 and 17 yards – five of which helped set up scores in the second and third quarters and overtime. RB Brandon Jacobs' change of direction near the middle of the line of scrimmage accounted for a 16-yard gain on a second-and-19 play from the Giants' 14 early in the fourth quarter. Bottom Line: Ward was incredible.

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

TE Kevin Boss' block of SS Chris Harris sprung Ward around right end for a 14-yard gain on a third-and-7 play from Carolina's 33. They won the game in overtime two plays later on Jacobs' 2-yard run. WR Domenik Hixon caught Manning's short pass, faked his way around LCB Chris Gamble and gained 13 yards on a critical first-and-15 play from the Panthers' 49 late in the fourth quarter. The Giants tied the game, 28-28, seven plays later. Bottom Line: Hixon, Boss and Amani Toomer made crucial catches.

OFFENSIVE LINE

RDE Julius Peppers blew by LT David Diehl on a third-and-7 play from Carolina's 30 early in the fourth quarter for an 8-yard sack that forced the Giants to punt. RG Chris Snee sealed off WLB Thomas Davis, which enabled Ward to change direction just after the line of scrimmage and run 34 yards to Carolina's 21 late in the second quarter. Carney's 35-yard FG four plays later cut Carolina's lead to 21-13, just 50 seconds before halftime. Pulling LG Rich Seubert blocked SLB Na'il Diggs and then MLB Jon Beason to clear the way for Jacobs on his 2-yard score early in the second quarter. Bottom Line: They blew open huge holes all night.

DEFENSIVE LINE

DT Barry Cofield contained Williams for a 1-yard loss, which backed Carolina into a third-and-9 situation from its own 2 in the fourth quarter. The Giants got great field position on their ensuing drive and tied the game. Bottom Line: They neither sacked nor hurried QB Jake Delhomme.

LINEBACKERS

MLB Antonio Pierce's terrible tackling technique near the Giants' 20 allowed RB DeAngelo Williams to run for his fourth TD, a 30-yard score that helped lift the Panthers to 28-20 lead, with just 12:50 to play. Pierce couldn't shed the block of RG Geoff Hangartner, which created the gaping hole up the middle Williams used to score a 13-yard touchdown that helped place Carolina in front 7-3 at the 6:16 mark of the first quarter. Bottom Line: Pierce hasn't been consistent in December.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Had nickel CB Terrell Thomas intercepted Delhomme's third-and-12 pass late in the second quarter, he would've returned it for about a 25-yard touchdown that would've sliced Carolina's lead to 21-17. RCB Aaron Ross recovered from a stumble midway through the play, but somehow mistimed his attempt at intercepting Delhomme's pass to WR Muhsin Muhammad, whose 60-yard reception advanced the Panthers to the Giants' 5 in the second quarter. The ball went right through Ross' arms. Williams' 1-yard run helped give Carolina a 21-10 advantage three plays later. Bottom Line: Steve Smith didn't do as much damage as he did the last time he came to Giants Stadium.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Thomas masterfully tapped Jeff Feagles' near-perfect punt out of bounds, which forced the Panthers to start a drive at their own 1 at the 9:21 mark of the fourth quarter. Feagles scooped up LS Jay Alford's short snap and placed the ball perfectly for K John Carney, who drilled a 32-yard FG to give the Giants a 3-0 lead 5:26 into the game. Bottom Line: They cannot continue using Ahmad Bradshaw to return kickoffs.

COACHING

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's alternate use of Jacobs and Ward was the foremost factor in this come-from-behind win. But a third-and-1 play from their own 29, when the Giants were down 14-10, seemed like an unusual time for FB Madison Hedgecock's first carry as a Giant. MLB Jon Beason dropped him for no gain, which forced the Giants to punt midway through the second quarter. Bottom Line: They have homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

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