The stat line for Eli Manning makes it look like he had one of those old Jeff George games: 20-of-30 passing, 263 yards passing, three touchdowns, three interceptions. But none of those three interceptions were Manning’s fault, and the man looked terrific all day in a 31-18 win over the Carolina Panthers in the first regular-season game at the New Meadowlands. It’s kind of funny, calling Manning a “man”; he has been the perpetual little brother, the even more yokel-ish quarterback who has always looked a little lost, like maybe he really did like squash more. (Other than that Super Bowl drive, of course.) Now, he looks like a No. 1 draft pick. Considering the history of quarterbacks drafted No. 1, he looks a ton better.
The Giants defense was much better in the second half than they were in the first, giving up just 72 yards and knocking Panthers quarterback Matt Moore out of the game. (Jimmy Clausen was his awfully shaky replacement, and he may start Week 2 because of Moore’s concussion. The Giants might have not guaranteed a great season with yesterday’s win, but it’s possible they doomed the Panthers. Considering what the Panthers did to the Giants in the last game at the old Meadowlands last year, forgive Giants fans if their sympathy level is low.)
The running game was not dominant, but it’s more clear than ever that Brandon Jacobs is ensconced as a backup: Ahmad Bradshaw looks much better — faster and even tougher after the first hit. And even though the receivers had some drops, they have some serious weapons for Manning, particularly Hakeem Nicks, for whom you need to trade in your fantasy league right now. The Giants have a Manning-brother match-up in Indianapolis next Sunday night, and the way the Colts looked yesterday, the Giants have a better chance of winning that anyone might have suspected. Even with some of the first-game sloppiness yesterday, we see no reason not to continue to be bullish on the Giants this year.
Which brings us to the one ugly part of yesterday: the massive number of empty seats. This wasn’t noticed on television — these can be hid better than Yankee Stadium’s issues were last year — but apparently there were massive swaths of the new Meadowlands empty yesterday. Why? Because of, as Gary Myers put it, the “two sections of club seats in the mezzanine level opposite the Giants bench that were nearly completely empty. There’s about 250 seats in each section.” These are the premium seats, and they weren’t the only ones; Myers estimates about 5,200 seats going unsold yesterday, for the opening game at a $1.7 billion stadium. Brandon Jacobs called it “heartbreaking,” and while we usually save “heartbreaking” for things that aren’t “empty seats at a football game,” it is rather disturbing. The Giants have no impetus to lower the prices on those seats like the Yankees did, because no one can see them. The place looks full from TV, and in football, TV is, and always will be, all that matters. But if this happens in a home playoff game, it’s going to feel a little like Jacksonville around here.