Although the cold was bitter, it didn’t stop one running back from being on fire. Derrick Ward and the 12-3 Giants beat the 11-4 Panthers in an overtime thriller, 34-28, to clinch the number one seed, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Ward, ‘Wind’ in ‘Earth, Wind, and Fire’, rushed for a career high 215 yards, including a 51 yard scamper, and an 18 yard gain on the final possession to set up the winning TD. The Giants rushed for 301 yards, and got back to their strong offensive attack of earlier weeks.
This game was topsy-turvy from the get-go, featuring 5 lead changes. The Giants, ever resilient, fought back from an eight point deficit early in the fourth to tie it up on one of Brandon Jacobs’ three touchdowns, with just over three minutes left in the game.The touchdown was set up by a pass interference call on Ken Lucas of the Panthers, their first pass interference penalty of the year. Eli Manning threw to Domenik Hixon for the two point conversion. John Kasay missed a 50 yard field goal at the end of regulation for the Panthers to send the game into OT.
Expected to be a defensive struggle, this game was a shootout. The Giants gained 459 yards, while the Panthers gained 343. Amazingly, there were only 4 penalties -two to each team- throughout the game. DeAngelo Williams for the Panthers gained 108 yards and scored 4 TDs. The explosive Steve Smith was largely kept in check, with only 47 yards receiving.
Mushin Muhammad caught 4 passes for 80 yards as the Panthers leading wide out, and Domenik Hixon caught 4 passes for 71 yards, to be the Giants leading receiver. The quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Jake Delhomme, did not do much, passing for 158 and 185 yards respectively, with Manning throwing a TD pass. Clearly, this game belonged to the running backs.
On a night of swirling “Wind”, the Panthers couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t stop Derrick Ward, that is. In a clash of NFC titans, the Giants prevailed. And they had the ‘Wind’ at their backs the whole time.