Gano’s miss costs Panthers dearly in 30-27 loss

Two months after setting NFL record, kicker misses potential game-winner

Carolina Panthers' Graham Gano (9) attempts a field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. The kick was no good. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

“Take us through the kick.”

“No. There’s nothing to take you through. I just missed it.”

For the second time in a little over a month, Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano stood at the center of a huge group of media members, looking for answers. But the second media session, on Sunday, was worlds away from the first.

On Oct. 7, the veteran kicked an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal with one second left to beat the Giants. In just under five minutes talking to the press, Gano mentioned the distance exactly once.

“I didn’t know how long it was.”

On Sunday, he brought up the distance of the one he missed four times in just under three minutes.

52 yards.

“To miss a 52-yarder like that — it’s frustrating.

Gano’s miss from 52 yards, with 1:45 remaining in a tie game, ended up giving Seattle the ball on the 42. Seven plays and 45 yards later, Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski kicked a game-winner as time expired to earn a 30-27 victory and drop the reeling Panthers to 6-5 on the year.

It also put Gano’s job status in jeopardy. That’s life as a kicker in the league. Regardless of the records and special teamer of the week awards, you’re always a bad kick or two away from the street.

Coach Ron Rivera said the right things afterward, giving Gano a vote of confidence.

“We get in another situation like that, he’s our kicker,” Rivera said. “He’s going to kick the ball.”

Of course, Rivera also went for a risky two-point conversion at the end of last week’s game in Detroit, instead of sending out Gano, who’d missed a field goal and an extra point in the game, to kick for the tie.

“I had strep last week. I’m chalking that one up as a crap game. I was down for the count for two days. I mean, yes, if they send me out, I’ve got to make my kicks. I’m not even — yes, I wish I could’ve done better that game, but I’m not going to dwell on it.”

Rivera also left his offense on the field in the first drive against Seattle, turning it over on downs at the 5-yard line instead of asking Gano to try a chip shot to give the Panthers an early lead.

“I don’t remember. I just go when they call me to go.”

“My confidence in him is where it needs to be,” he said — a statement that can be taken a number of different ways.

So Gano calmly, quietly dressed at his locker, never looking at the crowd of reporters waiting in a loose semicircle to talk to him. Then he disappeared into a players-only section of the locker room.

“I just tried to run away from everybody so I didn’t get jumped on.” — Eight weeks ago, asked about the post-kick celebration.  

When it became clear that the media wasn’t going to disperse, a team representative went and retrieved Gano to face the horde.

“Take us through the kick.”

“No. There’s nothing to take you through. I just missed it.”

Gano hit from 26 and 25 in the game, to extend his streak of made field goals at Bank of America Stadium to 42, and was dead on for all three extra points. None of it mattered. He missed at the end, and there’s a very real chance the traveling kickers — the group of released kickers who are brought to town whenever an incumbent struggles for an early week tryout — will be making plans to visit Charlotte soon. And if that happens, it’s not inconceivable that Gano will be a member of the traveling kickers before the year — a year where he tied the NFL record for longest game-winning kick — is over.

“I feel very blessed, very fortunate.” — Eight weeks ago.

“It’s super tough,” he said. “We should’ve won. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for me to have a perfect game until one 50-plus yard kick.”

Gano stressed that he still had plenty of confidence in himself.

“It’s super high,” he said of his self-esteem.

He stressed that his teammates had his back. Still, he sounded like a man arguing for his job, not one secure in his spot.

“It’s fun — kind of what you live for. When I had to make a decision between being a punter or a kicker, the reason I picked being a kicker is for these types of moments.” — Eight weeks ago.

“It’s not like it was a super-close kick,” he said. “It’s a 52-yarder. Yes, I can make it, but…”

But he didn’t.