"We challenged ourselves this week to know the Giants better than they knew themselves," said Carolina defensive tackle Brentson Buckner.
It was New York's first playoff shutout in 20 years -- and not much of a stretch for the Panthers (12-5) under Fox, who spent five seasons as New York's defensive coordinator before taking over in Carolina in 2002.
Fox still maintains close relationships with everyone from the front office to the cleaning crew, and marked his return to the Meadowlands by staying one step ahead of everything the Giants tried to do.
"It was strange -- they were in our huddle a little bit," said running back Tiki Barber, who was held to a season-low 41 yards. "They kind of had us dissected and figured out and we couldn't get anything going consistently."
"Everybody may say we're a Super Bowl team -- we're not," Smith cautioned. "All we are is a one-win playoff team."
Carolina did it with a stout defense and a strong running game -- the same principles the Giants used this season to win their first divisional title in five years.
Foster ran for 151 yards by going straight at the Giants' depleted linebacker corps, kick-starting a running game that has been spotty all year. It was just his third 100-yard game this season -- the other two came against Atlanta, leading to questions if Foster could run on any other team.
"I don't think they thought we would really run the ball against them, but we established it early," Foster said. "It was just wide open. I got right to the second level, early. If I can get to the second level, I can make things happen."
But the playmaking is usually reserved for Smith, and he didn't disappoint with 10 catches for 84 yards. He scored once on a 22-yard catch from Jake Delhomme, then ran a reverse in 12 yards for a second score.
"In my opinion, he should have been in the MVP voting with his regular-season performance," Fox said. "I think he just proved his value to us today."
So did the defense, a staple of Fox's team.
"I didn't play well, and I made too many mistakes for us to win today," said Manning, who finished 10 for 18 for 113 yards. "It was not the way I wanted to come out and play. I look forward to coming back and getting better."
Although Umenyiora and Michael Strahan combined for three sacks of Delhomme, Peppers, Rucker and the rest of the Panthers are the ones still playing.
"We were always overlooked. We don't know why that is," said safety Marlon McCree, who had two interceptions. "We've got the third best defense in the league. Sooner or later, we'll get the respect and recognition that we deserve."
Carolina forced five turnovers in all and kept New York's offense off the field. It allowed the Panthers to keep the ball a whopping 42:45.
"I believe we still have a lot to be proud of," Barber said. "We have no reason to hang our heads even though we showed the playoffs weren't what we were ready for."
Not on Sunday they weren't.
The New York crowd, so rowdy at kickoff, booed the Giants off the field after a frustrating first half. It continued most of the second half, until the crowd gave a sarcastic cheer after New York finally managed a first down -- one of just nine in the game.
Carolina used New York mistakes to aid most of its scoring.
Smith then shed his double coverage and easily beat Terrell Buckley into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown reception.
New York unraveled in the second half.
Ken Lucas intercepted Manning on the first play of New York's second series, setting up Smith's TD run one play later. And Manning was picked off again on the next series when McCree took a ball intended for Jeremy Shockey at the Carolina 17. It ended the last real scoring threat New York mustered and shattered Manning's already shaky confidence.
NOTES: Nick Goings ran for 63 yards on 12 carries. ... Former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was honored at halftime. "I feel like this is my house and I'm just happy to be back again."... Kate Mara, granddaughter of late Giants owner Wellington Mara, sang the national anthem. ... John Kasay made field goals of 31, 45 and 18 yards. ... The Giants were only penalized twice for 15 yards.