By Larry Fine
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Two teams with high aspirations and time running out on them collide on Sunday when the New York Giants visit the Carolina Panthers.
The error-plagued Giants and hard-luck Panthers have each started the National Football League's (NFL) 2013 campaign 0-2, attaching a sudden sense of urgency to the outcome of their Week Three clash.
"We know what the mistakes are and the corrections we need to make to get better," Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has thrown an NFL-worst seven interceptions, said after Wednesday's practice.
"There is still a positive energy around this team and we feel we can straighten it out and start playing real good football real soon."
His Carolina counterpart sounded a similar note of optimism.
"We're not going to dwell on the negatives," Cam Newton told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. "I feel our team is right on the brink. With just a couple more plays in the games, it's easy for us to be 2-0."
All is not yet lost despite the odds against them.
Since the NFL expanded its playoff format to 12 teams in 1990, only 22 of the 276 teams that started a season 0-2 have reached the playoffs.
There have been some notable exceptions, including the 2007 Giants, who recovered from a slow start to finish 10-6 and then registered three successive road playoff wins before upsetting the unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
The 2001 Patriots and 1993 Dallas Cowboys also started 0-2 before recovering to win Super Bowl titles.
Starting 0-3 is, of course, grimmer. In the same time period only three teams have lost their opening three and made the playoffs, and none of them in the last 14 seasons.
"It is very urgent," Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters. "You can't win two until you've won one."
New York and Carolina are joined in their moment of desperation by six other winless teams heading into Week Three: the Washington Redskins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Giants have to overcome a sloppy start, having committed 10 turnovers in losses to the Cowboys and Broncos.
Carolina have lost nail biters to the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, who last week won on a last second touchdown.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Carolina have played well.
"They've lost two games by six points. Their defense has given up 36 points. Their offense has scored 30. Seattle scored (only) 12 points on them," he said.
"Their offensive team is sixth in rushing. They only had seven penalties, two fumbles and an interception in their first two games, so they're a solid football team."
Mistakes have been the thing that has killed the Giants, who last year beat the Panthers 36-7.
"We can fix a lot by hanging on to the ball. A lot of what we can accomplish for ourselves would be to be able to take better care of the ball," said Coughlin.
New York's air attack has averaged more than 390 yards a game to lead the league, but the Giants have struggled on the ground.
While the Panthers have averaged 129.5 yards rushing led by DeAngelo Williams, the Giants have gained a meager 36.5 yards on average, worst in the league.
Coughlin would not lay the blame on second-year running back David Wilson, who fumbled twice in the opening loss to Dallas. He said the offensive line also had to do much better.
"You have to communicate well, you have to recognize in split seconds, you have to be physical enough to reject the fronts and the linebackers as they attack the line of scrimmage.
"You have to knock a hole in the defensive front. You have to break an arm tackle, which very few have," said Coughlin.
"So you have a lot of things. You've got to block down field. Your receivers have got to get their faces in front of somebody down field, push toward the opponent's goal line."
Said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck: "We expect a battle. That's a good football team, similar to us."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)