Panthers Graham Gano reacts after kicking 63-yard field goal to beat Giants
In one of those moments that Panthers fans will reminisce about 20 years from now, Carolina kicker Graham Gano connected on a 63-yard field goal with one second left that allowed his team to escape with a 33-31 victory Sunday over the New York Giants.
“Graham put the whole team on his back today,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “Well, on his toe.”
Gano’s field goal was tied for the second-longest in NFL history, trailing only a 64-yarder hit by Denver kicker Matt Prater in mile-high altitude in 2013. Holder Michael Palardy said Gano hit the ball so hard it would have been good from 70 yards.
When the ball went through, Gano started running — trying to get away from the swarm of happy teammates who might accidentally squash him.
“The rest of it was kind of crazy madness,” Gano said. “I don’t remember a lot after that.”
Carolina finished the first quarter of the season 3-1 because of Gano’s 36th consecutive made field goal at Bank of America Stadium. He hasn’t missed a field goal in Charlotte in two years. This one also had the hardest degree of difficulty of those 36, however — a make-it-or-lose kick that was 4 yards longer than any kick the nine-year NFL veteran had ever made in a pro game before.
Although Gano said he didn’t calculate the kick’s exact distance before he hit it, Palardy realized the field goal’s tremendous length when he knelt to take the snap.
“Very rarely do you put your hand down and it’s in the center of the logo,” Palardy said.
Yes, the new Panthers logo at midfield played a small part in the drama, as Palardy knelt down at the neck of the black-and-blue Panthers head that is new for the 2018 season. Then he got ready for the snap from long snapper J.J. Jansen.
Jansen was one of the few players on the field in 2014 when Gano had tried exactly the same kick from almost exactly the same spot — a 63-yarder from the left hashmark with one second left against Atlanta.
That kick got blocked, and Carolina lost that game 19-17. Long kicks traditionally get blocked more often, because kickers sometimes use a lower trajectory trying to crush the ball.
This time, though, Gano’s kick got so high that it actually hit the bottom of the net behind the goal posts on its descent. The ball started dead center, trailed off a little to the right, but sneaked just inside the uprights as the stadium erupted in cheers.
“Those are kind of those special moments in your career where you’re just honored to be on the field,” Jansen said.
The 63-yarder was the fourth kick in four tries Gano made Sunday. And the Panthers needed every point he provided.
Carolina — ahead by 14 points in the second quarter and 11 in the fourth quarter — nearly blew both those leads with some suspect pass defense and a couple of ill-timed Newton interceptions.
The Giants scored a touchdown with 1:08 left to take a 31-30 lead, which left the Panthers needing a field goal to win. Kickers like kicking on a warm day like Sunday — it was 80 degrees at kickoff — because the ball flies a little further. Still, 63 yards?!
“That’s just an incredibly hard kick,” Jansen said.
Palardy may have been the first person in the stadium to know the kick was going to make Panthers history as the longest made field goal in the franchise’s 24 years. Gano thumped the ball so solidly that Palardy let out a long “Whoooo!!” well before the ball had cleared the uprights.
Gano had trouble seeing the ball’s flight over his blockers, but he knew the “Whoooo!!” was a very good sign.
Said Newton: “A wise man once told me a great quarterback is only as good as his kicker. … Gano made a lot of wrongs right today.”
Gano, 31, has become one of the NFL’s best kickers in recent years. He missed only a single field goal in the 2017 regular season, going 29-for-30. Always boasting one of the NFL’s strongest legs — he actually made a 71-yard field goal in high school, only to have it negated by a penalty — Gano has added more consistency over the past couple of years. Now he has turned into a legitimate weapon.
His field goal was fitting on a day the Panthers introduced their special-teams players — rather than the offense or the defense, as is usual — with the requisite fire and smoke before the game.
“That was pretty cool,” Gano said of the introductions. “I felt a little like Cam out there.”
So the special-teamers began the game for the Panthers, and then they ended it, too.
Gano actually had to kick the ball once more after his 63-yarder, because he hit the winning field goal with six seconds left and by rule no field goal can take longer than five seconds. So the field had to be cleared of celebrating Panthers and, with one second left, Gano lined up to kick off.
Gano drilled the kickoff nine yards deep into the end zone. There, New York receiver Odell Beckham fielded the ball and began a multi-lateral play. It looked for a second like it would work.
But one of the laterals went astray, and Gano’s happy ending was preserved.