On early Tuesday morning at 12:37, Graham Gano had his iPhone charged at his locker when it began receiving rapid-fire texts and notifications.
One after the other they came in green and blue dots as the Panthers’ kicker reflected on his game-winning field goal in overtime to keep Carolina undefeated on the season and beat the Colts 29-26.
And Gano knew that he could have been getting much different texts had the game gone another way.
Gano missed Carolina’s final point-after attempt wide left, which allowed the Colts to kick a game-tying field goal in regulation to send the game to overtime. He made up for it when he nailed a 52-yarder for the win.
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“At the end of regulation, I put my head down and said, ‘Lord, your will be done,’” Gano said. “And I had a calmness come over me. I was hoping for that opportunity.”
Gano didn’t have his best day on Monday night. Five of his seven kickoffs were returned for an average of 30 yards, something he attributed to not trusting the wet ground and not hitting the ball as well as he could have.
He had one field goal of 39 yards and two made PATs before the miss with more than 10 minutes left in regulation.
It was Gano’s second miss of the season in the first year where the PAT has been moved back to a 33-yard kick.
“I don’t even view it as a PAT anymore; I don’t think any kicker does,” Gano said. “It’s just a field goal. It is a shorter field goal, I should make them all, but with the conditions out there today things happen.”
Gano said he had to forget about the miss immediately so that he could focus on the ensuing kickoff.
His coach wasn’t worried about him.
“It’s funny because everybody’s missing extra points but guys are making kicks still,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I had a lot of confidence in Graham. It’s one of those things with a kid like him who’s just fearless, and I promise you he wasn’t even thinking about that.”
The line between being a goat and being one of the game’s heroes is thin. It’s especially thin for kickers. And it’s almost invisible when you’re Gano going against Adam Vinatieri, possibly the greatest (and certainly the most clutch) field-goal kicker of a generation.
Gano didn’t have to check his Twitter mentions to know he was getting roasted by fans and observers.
“I heard the crowd. The Colts fans,” Gano said. “They were giving it to me on the sidelines.”
When Gano saw the 42-year-old Vinatieri make a 50-yard field goal in overtime, he knew he would likely have to match.
He said the adrenaline was pumping on the first try, a 42-yarder with 7:50 remaining in the overtime period to tie the game.
On the final kick, Gano initially thought it would be from 53 yards and he started patting the ground down. Then he noticed long snapper J.J. Jansen was a yard farther ahead and didn’t have much time to pat down the ground for a 52-yard kick.
Gano got one pat with his foot and he was backing up for the kick. Seconds later, it was through for the win.
Gano said he’s been waiting for a moment like this with the Panthers. But he still hadn’t processed what had transpired by 12:42 a.m. He was still in his uniform pants and undershirt trying to contextualize everything.
Game-winning kick, in overtime, against the Colts, in primetine, after missing a costly PAT.
After the game, Rivera did his usual post-game trip around the locker room. He started with the specialists.
“Nice snap,” he said to Jansen.
“Nice hold,” Rivera said to holder Brad Nortman.
“Great finish,” the coach said to Gano as he shook his hand.
“Thanks, Coach,” Gano replied.