Carolina defense championship caliber

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Rookie strong safety Robert Lester summed it up better than me or anybody else how dominant the Carolina Panthers were defensively in Sunday's 38-0 victory over the New York Giants.

"Honestly, it felt like the 2011 National Championship when we just about played the perfect game,'' he said.

Lester was referring to the way his University of Alabama held high-powered LSU to 92 yards of total offense and five first downs en route to a 21-0 victory.

This one had many of the same ingredients. Let's break it down:

  • Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who came to Bank of America Stadium with the No. 1 passing offense, was held to 119 yards.

  • The Panthers intercepted Manning once and backup Curtis Painter once.

  • Carolina sacked Manning seven times; defensive end Greg Hardy had three in the first half and everyone on the front four had at least one.

  • The Giants rushed for only 60 yards, which isn't surprising since they came in with no running game.

  • New York had only 150 total yards.

In other words, near perfection.

The first half was almost laughable for the Giants as Carolina held them to 18 yards and sacked Manning six times. And this from a defense that was missing starting tackle Dwan Edwards (thigh) and two starters in a secondary that was allowing opponents to complete a gaudy 72.2 percent of their passes.

Lester did his share to make sure the completion percentage trend didn't continue, collecting an interception, fumble recovery and five tackles in his first NFL start.

"It was a phenomenal team effort,'' Hardy said.

That the front seven finally played a complete game isn't surprising. They got a lot of national attention in a 12-7 loss to Seattle on opening day. Former Panthers general manager Bill Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, called them one of the best front sevens nobody really knows before kickoff.

But the secondary has been one of the worst every opponent has wanted to know. Predictions of Manning having a big day were rampant.

Few outside the Carolina locker room believed such a shellacking was possible. But the Panthers believed. Free safety Mike Mitchell warned on Wednesday that sleeping on the Carolina secondary will get you a rude awakening.

Rude, indeed.

But nothing Lester hasn't seen before at Alabama.