The feeling during Sunday’s Carolina Panthers 33-31 victory against the New York Giants was that whoever maintained the most composure down the stretch of a voodoo, helter-skelter game would win the darn thing.
Especially after New York, which entered Sunday’s contest 1-3, clawed back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to go ahead by a point.
Enter placekicker Graham Gano, who took the field with six seconds to play. Sixty-three yards of green grass and blue sky stretched in front of him. The yellow goal posts look like match sticks from that far back.
The snap hit punter Michael Palardy in the hands, and he spun the laces. Gano stepped, stepped, and connected.
The ball sailed ...
Record scratch. Freeze frame.
How did the Panthers (3-1) get here? How was it this close? A few breaks, both lucky and unlucky, a little magic, and a lot of madness ...
▪ In the first quarter, head coach Ron Rivera used a challenge on an incomplete pass ruling against receiver Devin Funchess. The referees saw the patch of grass between Funchess’ foot and the sideline upon review, and then reversed the call.
That set up a huge 18-yard gain by receiver D.J. Moore on a reverse, during which Moore shook four would-be tacklers, one of whom bounced right off him as he drove his legs.
But perhaps the wildest moment of the play was quarterback Cam Newton, who pancaked a Giants linebacker Kareem Martin to help spring Moore.
“Did you see it?!” Newton excitedly asked the crowd of reporters after the game. Hard to miss a hit like that — a clean hit, too.
Those plays set up second-year receiver Curtis Samuel’s first NFL touchdown, a 25-yard catch-and run during which he broke two tackles.
▪ Then, to open the second quarter, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had a Carolina punt glance off his leg as he was trying to fend off Moore, the gunner on the play. The ball squirted off four different players, including Samuel, until special teams captain Colin Jones fell on it in the end zone.
In eight years in the league, it was Jones’ first touchdown. It also came on the day the special teams unit got to run out of the tunnel, introduced on the big screen for the first time in team history.
So maybe those guys were just showing off.
▪ New York answered with a little voodoo of its own, a 57-yard touchdown pass ... from receiver Beckham Jr. to rookie running back Saquon Barkley.
▪ A third-down incompletion ruling on a pass from Newton to rookie tight end Ian Thomas was challenged by Rivera. But the ruling stood, and Rivera soundly berated the referees.
It was a rare moment for a coach whose manifestation of disappointment usually peaks at a frown and folded arms. He said that he saw the exact same challenge occur in Week 4, and the call was a catch, so he just wanted consistency week to week.
“I did lose my composure a little bit in the third quarter and I think it might have affected our guys, and that’s on me,” he said.
After the challenge, things really went off-the-rails.
▪ Veteran safety Mike Adams picked off fellow 37-year-old Eli Manning, Giants quarterback, twice on consecutive throws. His picks were split down the middle by Christian McCaffrey’s first touchdown of the season.
▪ But then Newton was picked off, too, on a pass intended for Thomas. And Manning hit Beckham Jr. for a 33-yard touchdown, then converted two more points.
▪ The teams traded three different penalties, Adams recorded his second pick, and then Newton was picked a second time.
Are you keeping up?
This game even featured punter Michael Palardy drawing the Giants offsides on fourth down with a hard count, and starting right guard Trai Turner accidentally tackling his own runner.
▪ In the fourth quarter, former Panther Russell Shepard caught a long, wide-open 55-yard pass and ran into the end zone. The referees ruled it a touchdown, until the replay showed he had been touched down at the 15-yard line. The fans in the stadium collectively exhaled.
But then Barkley appeared to bend time and space on the next play by getting the ball across the plane while hurdling over the side of the end zone.
The Giants led by one with 1:08 left.
▪ Newton hit Moore across the middle for a 20-yard gain. Then a weird and quite questionable run play was called on third and 1 as the clock continued to tick away the seconds and they scrambled to spike the ball. Several on social media also questioned the spot the referees placed the ball, which was a first down.
But the Panthers got in line to kick with 11 seconds on the clock, and some Panthers players grabbed ahold of each other on the sideline as they watched the field goal unit line up...
Then the kick ....
It sailed through the uprights and skimmed the back of the net. Palardy stretched out his arms, and screamed as he turned to Gano.
Good, from a career-long 63 yards out.
And then pandemonium, as Gano’s teammates sprinted onto the field to celebrate. There was still a second left on the clock, so the madness had to be corralled and contained.
“(‘Madness’) is the only word I can use to explain it,” Gano said. “I just don’t think it’s hit me yet. I was going nuts ...
“I just have no words for it.”
Neither do we.