Graham Gano didn’t even have to watch his game-winning field goal go through the uprights.
He said he knew as soon as he hit it that he had won the game.
“They said, ‘It’s a good hit, you hit it solid.’ I was like, ‘Where’d it go?’ I hit it on line and then I started shaking hands.”
Gano’s 43-yard field goal as time expired gave the Panthers the 38-35 victory over a New York Giants team that clawed back from 28 points down in the second half.
Gano said he even considered the possibility of the game-winning kick during the second half, despite the fact that the Panthers had never given up a lead of 21 points or more after three quarters in team history.
“I said to myself, stay focused in the game because it might come down to a kick, even though we were up by a lot,” Gano said. “I think that’s the mentality you always have to have because I was preparing throughout the whole entire game for a situation like that. I’m just glad we got the opportunity and it was fun.”
Earlier in the game Gano had an opportunity to make it a three-score game with a 34-yard field goal. The attempt was blocked when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came free from the edge, and Prince Amukamara picked the ball up at the 45 yard-line with scoring on his mind.
Instead, Gano, who has argued before about his speed rating on the Madden video game, chased Amukamara down for just a 9-yard gain.
“I was thinking about it,” Gano said. “I’m going to chase this guy down and tackle him. This’ll be fun.”
Sunday’s game didn’t lack excitement.
Three who mattered
Cam Newton: With one more five-touchdown game, Newton will tie 2004 Peyton Manning for most all-time in one season with four.
Ted Ginn Jr.: He had two touchdown catches and now has 10 on the season. He has 15 in his career in Carolina and just six in his other seven years in the NFL.
Odell Beckham Jr.: His attempts to get inside the Carolina defense’s heads backfired on him. He had two drops and zero catches in the first half for the first time in his two-year career.
▪ The Panthers are the fourth team in NFL history since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to start the season 14-0. The 1972 Dolphins, 2007 Patriots and 2009 Colts all went to the Super Bowl in those seasons, with only the Dolphins winning it all.
▪ The absence of Jonathan Stewart was apparent. Yes, the Panthers rushed for more than 100 yards, but the running game – without Stewart in the backfield – didn’t have the juice it has had this season. It was no more evident than in the fourth quarter when Cameron Artis-Payne and Newton fumbled on a zone-read.
▪ Jason Pierre-Paul, playing with a mangled hand after a fireworks incident this summer left him without two digits, got his first sack of the season in the second quarter. But his hand also caused him to miss a tackle on Newton during his 46-yard scamper that eventually led to a touchdown.
▪ Beckham and Newton both had on festive cleats before the game. Beckham had green and red Nike cleats that lit up red on the side. They also had little present boxes on the laces. Newton had on green and red Under Armour cleats.
▪ Newton took a big shot in the second quarter from Cullen Jenkins and left the field grabbing at his chest. His pass should have been intercepted and returned for a touchdown, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped the pick-six.
▪ Rivera won a second-quarter challenge on a Rashad Jennings fumble. Charles Tillman and Shaq Thompson caused the fumble and gave the Panthers the ball at the Giants’ 46. Rivera is 14-of-31 on challenges all-time and eight-for-12 this season.
▪ The Panthers rushed for 100-plus yards for the 25th straight game. It’s tied with Seattle for the longest active streak in the NFL and is the sixth-longest streak in the NFL since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
▪ Rivera is now 18-3 all-time in the month of December.
They said it
“We knew they were that type of sneaky team that won’t go away, and it showed. We did a terrible job with finishing this game out and we’ve just got to create better habits here moving forward.” – Newton.
“Sometimes lower.” – Giants coach Tom Coughlin on if these kind of endings at stomach-punchers.
“Just told him, ‘Let’s get back to playing football. Play football and play the game. Don’t get caught up in this.’ I think he was able to dial back in and make some big plays for us.” – Giants quarterback Eli Manning on his words to Beckham.
“Cam and those guys did a great job today, and we just need to do a little bit better of a job on defense and give them a little more of a complement.” – Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on the defense holding up its end of the bargain.