Perhaps no other player on the field Sunday had more ups and downs than Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano.
Gano kicked a field goal to send the game to overtime and made another in the overtime period to prolong the game in the 37-37 tie with the Bengals.
But Gano also missed a 38-yard attempt – a chip shot for him – and hit a kickoff too high into the wind that ended up not going for a touchback but instead a 97-yard return by Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Gano’s missed field goal attempt and the poor kickoff were both going into the wind as the team faced the Ohio River side of the stadium. Gano was wide right on the field goal, and his kickoff got knocked down by the wind and into the hands of Jones, who to the Carolina 3 late in the fourth quarter.
“I’m always wanting to touchback. I’m disappointed in that. My mis-hits are going to have a lot of hangtime,” said Gano, meaning that he doesn’t push kickoffs left or right but puts them too high in the air. “I should have been a little closer to hopefully tackle him. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to tackle guys and he’s probably the shiftiest guy I’ve ever seen.”
Gano would get opportunities at redemption. After a 12-play, 54-yard drive in the final minutes of the game, Gano hit a 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation to tie the game at 34-all and send the game to overtime.
In overtime, he made a 36-yard field goal with 2:19 remaining to tie the game at 37-37, which would be the final score.
“That’s when the adrenaline starts dripping,” said Gano of the two field goals. “It is more fun.”
While Gano was able to make up for his mistakes, Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent wasn’t afforded the same opportunity. His missed field goal attempt from 36 yards, which was kicked nearly at the same spot on the field as Gano’s miss, came at the end of overtime.
“He’s been kicking for a long time. He’s done a good job,” Gano said. “I’ve been in his shoes before, and it’s hard to see that. But at the same time we’re competitive and we don’t want to lose the game. It’s a tough direction.”
Kuechly’s homecoming : Like almost everyone else in the Panthers’ locker room, Luke Kuechly didn’t know how to process a tie game. But it’s not something he’ll easily forget.
“It’ll definitely be memorable for that reason,” Kuechly said. “I came home, I was able to play in Cincinnati and we tied. So it’s not something you’re going to forget very quickly.”
Kuechly, who grew up in Cincinnati and went to St. Xavier High School, had more than a hundred friends and family in Paul Brown Stadium to watch his 13-tackle performance.
In the second level in a corner of the stadium, Kuechly’s section of 144 people sat and cheered him on while waving white Panthers towels.
“I looked at them before the game and a couple of times during the game,” Kuechly said. “It’s great when you have that much support from your family back in Cincinnati and I’m excited to out and see them all.”
Bernard’s long touchdown : Former North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard hit the Panthers for an 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter that was the second-longest in Bengals’ history and the longest rushing touchdown allowed in Carolina’s history.
Bernard took the handoff from quarterback Andy Dalton with 12 minutes left in the first half, hit a hole, bounced off one of his linemen and broke a tackle to get to the second level of the defense. Safety Thomas DeCoud took a bad angle on the would-be tackle and trailed Bernard all the way to the end zone.
Defensive end Charles Johnson was in position to tackle Bernard but could only muster an arm tackle. Linebacker Thomas Davis also misses an opportunity at a tackle.
“We had a guy who was holding the point (of attack) but he didn’t get his inside arm free like he should have,” said Rivera, referring to Johnson. “If he gets his inside arm free and closes down that crease, he makes the tackle right there for no gain. That was disappointing. He was in great position.”
Injury update: Left guard Amini Silatolu went out in the first quarter with a strained calf and did not return. He said he would get an MRI in Charlotte on Monday, and he was in a protective walking boot after the game.
Running back Fozzy Whittaker’s quadriceps tightened up during the second half and did not return. He missed three games with a quad injury suffered against the Lions.
Running back Jonathan Stewart was inactive for the game as he continues to heal from a knee sprain. Stewart was questionable entering the game, and Rivera has said the hope is to get both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, who’s missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain, on the practice field Wednesday.
Also inactive for the Panthers were quarterback Joe Webb, cornerback Josh Norman, cornerback Bene’ Benwikere, linebacker D.J. Smith and offensive lineman Andrew Norwell.
• Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict appeared to twist the ankles of Newton and Olsen after their respective touchdowns on tackles. Newton’s ankle is still recovering from surgery and Olsen injured his foot last week. There was no flag on either play. Gano tweeted after the game he hopes “the NFL lays down the law hard” on Burfict.
• Receiver Jason Avant had flashbacks to 2008 when the game went to overtime. He was with the Eagles when they tied with the Bengals in the game now infamously known for quarterback Donovan McNabb not knowing the overtime rules.
• Running back Fozzy Whittaker scored the first touchdown of his career Sunday, and Cam Newton gave the ball to a fan. Whittaker said after the game he had no problem with that and hoped it made someone’s day.
• For a team that hasn’t lost at home in 12 games, the Cincinnati crowd wasn’t great or loud. “The Jungle” was fairly quiet most of the game.
• Mohamed Sanu played very well as the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver. He had 10 catches on 14 targets to 120 yards and a touchdown in place of A.J. Green.
• With his 13-yard touchdown catch, Greg Olsen became the only tight end with at least five touchdown receptions in each of the past seven seasons.
By the numbers
119 Penalty yards for Cincinnati on 13 flags, compared with Carolina’s 60 yards on eight penalties.
11 Challenges by Ron Rivera that have been upheld in his tenure as head coach. Only three have been overturned.
513 Yards of total offense for Cincinnati, the second-most given up by Carolina in team history.
80 Yards on an interception return by Antoine Cason, the fourth-longest in team history.
29 First downs for each team.
• “The grace of God, and I prayed to him – heavily. He’s an on-time God. He came in right on time (on missed field goal in overtime).” – Carolina offensive tackle Byron Bell.
• “It’s unfortunate to come out the way it is, but I guess it’s not a loss.” – Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.
• “I think you have to (end in a tie) because these guys are in peril anyway going into the fifth quarter.” – Carolina coach Ron Rivera.
• “You’ve got to have a short-term memory. I’ll learn from it – I know what I did wrong – but it’s good to watch it on film.” – Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent.