Leonard Williams was blowing kisses to fans in the MetLife Stadium crowd.
What a difference a week — and a win — made for the Giants and a defense that went from underachieving in a blowout loss to dominant in a comfortable win.
“It’s something that we can definitely build on,” Williams said after a 25-3 win against the Panthers, “but we have to be consistent.”
A week ago, Williams waved off Giants fans who booed during a 38-11 loss to the Rams, then vented his frustrations at booing after the game.
When one fan made the same gesture back at Williams during Sunday’s pregame warm-ups, the star defensive tackle blew kisses instead of taking the bait. Then Williams did it again in the same fan’s direction after forcing an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone to score the Giants’ first two points.
Williams finished tied for the team-high with six tackles and added 1.5 of the Giants’ six sacks, but he wasn’t the only star. Azeez Ojulari led the way with 2.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss. Logan Ryan broke up two passes. James Bradberry grabbed an interception against his former team — and kept the ball — to protect a 5-3 first-half lead and quiet former teammate Shaq Thompson’s sideline trash talk toward him.
“I keep them all,” Bradberry said, “but I’ll definitely keep that one close by.”
The Giants allowed just 173 yards, including 52 in the second half, and answered the bell after Panthers coach Matt Rhule said earlier in the week that the goal was to run 30-33 times per game, which sounded a lot like a challenge to the NFL’s No. 29-ranked rushing defense.
“I’m not Michael Jordan, not everything is personal [to me],” Ryan said. “But this is our house. This is our fans. They pay good money. I heard a guy in the tunnel say he paid $5,000 for a [personal-seat license] and, hey, I feel that. I want to give him his money’s worth.”
This one was personal, however. The Panthers ran 17 times for 56 yards while playing from behind virtually all of the final three quarters.
“He talked about them establishing their identity and running the ball 33 times and figuring out who they are,’’ Ryan said. “They just got to do it next week. They couldn’t establish it against us.’’
The Giants entered the game with only 10 sacks in six games and allowing 73.9 percent of passes to be complete. Far off the top-10 defense expectation of the preseason.
But they teed off on an offensive line missing left tackle Taylor Moton and turnover-prone former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, who was benched in the fourth quarter. The Panthers converted 2 of 15 third downs.
“There was great focus from the defense throughout the week in practice in terms of playing together, understanding how this team is going to attack you, what are their different modes of attacking you,” coach Joe Judge said. “There was a great consciousness in terms of how to really be in the right place at the right time.”
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