CHARLOTTE — As Graham Gano lined up to try to kick the second-longest field goal in NFL history, his quarterback did his best to follow his usual routine.
“I always do the same thing,” Newton said. “I go right where the snapper is, I take a knee and I just wait.”
When Gano’s 63-yard kick went through to give the Panthers a 33-31 lead over the Giants with one second remaining in the game, Newton’s routine got disrupted.
“As soon as he kicked it, I didn’t do something I always do,” Newton said. “I try to touch every person that was out there (as they come back to the sideline).”
“I tried,” Newton added, “but a melee broke out.”
The team exploded onto the field from the sidelines to celebrate an improbable win over the visiting Giants.
“That was madness,” Gano said of the team’s reaction to his historic kick. “That’s the only word I can use to explain it. … I was going nuts.”
The kick was the longest of Gano’s career, the longest in the NFL in nearly five years, and his third field goal of the game.
“A wise man once told me, a quarterback is only as good as his kicker,” Newton said.
Gano’s heroics capped an outstanding day for the Panthers’ special teams unit, which, coincidentally, was chosen to run out of the tunnel and get introduced to the home crowd before the game, instead of the offense or defense.
“They made probably the two biggest plays of the game,” said linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has run through the smoke and fireworks countless times as a defensive starter.
In addition to the game-winner, the Carolina special teams helped the Panthers build a double-digit lead early.
With the Panthers clinging to a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, punter Michael Palardy backed Giants punt returner Odell Beckham Jr. up to the corner of the field, by the goal line. As he tried to block a Panthesr’ gunner to allow the ball to bounce into the end zone for a touchback, the punt bounced off his leg. Teammate Janoris Jenkins tried to recover the live ball, but Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel knocked it loose, and safety Colin Jones recovered in the end zone for his first career touchdown.
“Any time we can impact the team to help win a football game, it’s big,” Jones said. “When you’re seeing those perennial playoff teams, special teams are winning games. Like today, we helped our team get the victory, and we want to do more of that going forward.”
The Panthers’ punt team also extended a possession for the team, drawing the Giants offsides and allowing the offense to come back and covert a fourth and short.
“A lot of people forget about (special teams),” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “That’s why they introduced those guys today. I thought it was a great thing, because they’re a part of this football team. We’ve got guys like Ben Jacobs, Graham Gano, JJ (Jansen, long snapper), a lot of other guys who put their sweat and tears into those special teams.”
On a day when the offense saw Newton throw two interceptions, and the defense gave up 383 passing yards and three touchdowns, the Panthers special teams made the plays to win the game.
“Graham put the whole team on his back today,” Newton said. “Well, on his toe.”