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1st-And-10: Special Day For Panthers Specialists As Gano 63-Yarder Lift Panthers To Victory, 33-31

Ryan Chell
October 08, 2018 - 2:07 am
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@RyanChellWFNZ

On a day where Panthers head coach Ron Rivera decided to introduce his special teams unit in pregame warm-ups - a part of football that is often taken for granted at times - it appears like kicker Graham Gano rewarded his coach and the fans for showing him love - kicking a 63-yard field goal in the game's final seconds to give the Panthers a 33-31 victory over the visiting New York Giants. 

© Jim Dedmon

Carolina moves to 3-1 on the year and will face former star Josh Norman and the Washington Redskins next Sunday at 1pm. 

"That was fun," Gano told reporters postgame. "I don’t even think it’s hit me." 

"I’m just very blessed to have that opportunity and to have the guys around me."

Gano, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 2017 as an alternate and signed a four-year, 17 million dollar contract extension in the off-season, has yet to miss this season and was 4-of-4 on his attempts Sunday. 

Even former MVP Cam Newton said he has to give a lot of the credit he's had in his career to his kicker. 

"A wise man once told me that a great quarterback is only as good as his kicker. Over the years you see so many quarterbacks get bailed out by the kickers. I shouldn’t say bailed out, I’ll just say helped out and Graham put the whole team on his back today...well...on his toe, today," Newton joked.

Introduced with Gano before the game also were holder/punter Michael Palardy, who signed a three-year contract extension himself this week and special teams captain Colin Jones, who also made his way into the limelight Sunday as he recovered a Odell Beckham muffed punt for the Panthers' second touchdown that put Carolina up 14-3 just at the beginning of the second quarter. 

"They did a nice job," Rivera said when asked about the third unit. "They did things they are supposed to do and gave us an opportunity at the end on the offensive side to win the game. Really just feel fortunate."

#2 - Eric Reid Makes His Debut; Kneels During The National Anthem

Off the field, the biggest news this week at Bank of America Stadium came with the signing of former All-Pro safety Eric Reid, who along with his former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick - is suing the NFL for collusion believing he and Kaepernick are being ostracized by NFL owners for kneeling during the National Anthem. 

As the clock inched closer to 1:00pm eastern on Sunday, the American flag was stretched out across the newly-installed grass at Bank of America Stadium. 

And as the sound of "Oh Say...Can You See?" blared from the stadium speakers, Reid - at midfield - dropped to a knee. 

Jason Huber

Reid finished fourth on the team in tackles with three - and split reps at high safety with rookie Rashaan Gaulden

After the game, Reid said it was something he felt like he still had to do - despite concerns about putting his protest to rest now that he had found an NFL team willing to sign him. 

"We have to stay strong...we have to stay diligent to make sure that narrative doesn't change," Reid told reporters postgame. "We as a country have fallen short. 400 years of this? I can't close my eyes and go to sleep at night if I didn't try to make things better."

Reid said the win was bitter-sweet for him - knowing that his brother-in-arms in Colin Kaepernick - who tweeted support for Reid during the game - was sitting at home while he was on the gridiron. 

"I'm past frustration...I won the game, but Colin's at home with his kids. He should be playing, but I'm going to keep doing my part."

Ron Rivera - who was notified by Reid before the game about what he was going to do in protest - had no comment about Reid's action. 

"I'm not going to talk about a guy exercising his 1st Amendment rights...to me, it's about what happens on the football field."

#3 - Mike Adams Anchors Thieves Avenue

Eric Reid may have been the new kid on the block this week, but 37-yield old Mike Adams is the elder statesman, and with two interceptions of Eli Manning on Sunday, may have just elected himself as Mayor of the reincarnated "Thieves Avenue". 

This marks the second straight game for the Panthers in which a defensive back has recorded two interceptions. Right before the Panthers bye week against the Bengals on September 23rd.  rookie corner Donte Jackson intercepted Andy Dalton twice in Carolina's 31-21 victory.

Adams' first interception came in the waning minutes of the third quarter. Cam Newton had just been intercepted by Giants safety Curtis Riley, and immediately after 54 yards of pass plays from Sterling Shepard, Adams stepped in front of a pass intended for Odell Beckham and took the ball back to the Panthers 32 yard line. 

The Panthers would score on an 18-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey on the drive. 

Adams' 2nd interception came with the Panthers up two scores, 27-16 with 10:41 to go in the fourth quarter, but Cam Newton gave the ball right back to the Giants the next drive on a Janoris Jenkins interception. 

During the game, Adams moved into second all-time in turnovers among active players with 44 takeaways. 

But postgame, he still gave most of the credit to the scheme and just being in the right place at the right time. 

"We talked about it all week – disguise, just disguising. On both plays, I just disguised. I was down in the box and then I just popped out both times. I guess Eli thought it was one coverage when we were playing another and he ended up throwing it right to me. So, I got blessed on both plays."

#4 - Defense Contains Saquon Barkley

Coming into Sunday's game, Giants rookie Saquon Barkley - the #2 pick in the draft - had registered over 100 all-purpose yards for the New York Giants. 

Quite the task in front of Panthers All-Pro LB Luke Kuechly and this defense.

Barkley finished with 48 yards rushing on 15 attempts - with most of those yards coming on a 30-yard run. 

Barkley did find the end zone twice through the air - once on a trick play from WR Odell Beckham along with the go-ahead touchdown with 1:15 left in regulation - but overall, Kuechly felt like they did an impressive job on a rookie who has yet to provide them with enough tape to gameplan. 

"We did alright. I thought we did better in the run game, " Kuechly said. "They popped a couple plays on us but that’s a really great back. We had a couple guys that made some big tackles in space on him which is very difficult." 

Barkley finished the game with 129 total yards on the day - keeping his streak alive. 

#5 - James Bradberry battles Odell Beckham

Another dangerous weapon the Panthers had to deal with on Sunday was All-Pro WR Odell Beckham Jr. 

In back-to-back games, third-year corner James Bradberry has had to shadow some of the elite WRs in the game including Bengals WR AJ Green and Falcons WR Julio Jones

Beckham was next man up. 

Following Beckham around the field, he finished the day with 8 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. 

Not of all of that was on Bradberry - veteran Mike Adams said. Adams admitted in the locker room that he has to maintain more depth on a lot of the deep balls down the field. 

Adams also replied that numbers aside, Bradberry is fighting a losing battle because no one is seeing him play like a top-5 corner in the league - despite going up against top-5 WRs every week - and keeping them out of the end zone. 

"In our eyes, he is," Adams noted. "He lines up on the best receiver week in and week out."

#6 - Panther Young Cats In Receiving Corps Come Up Big

Over the last year, Panther fans have been clamoring for more reps, targets, and catches for two of the younger receivers on this team in 2nd-year WR Curtis Samuel and 2018 1st-rd pick DJ Moore

Cam Newton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner gave both guys an opportunity to shine on Sunday - and they both made the most of it. 

On a 1st-and-10 from the Giants 25-yard line down 3-0 in the first quarter, Newton hit Samuel in stride on a receiver screen. 

Samuel did the rest, trainwrecking his way into the end zone for his first touchdown on the season. 

It's the first real highlight for Samuel since an ankle injury last year against the Dolphins ended his season and an irregular heartbeat left him away from his Panthers teammates for several weeks this year. 

Newton knows how important it is to have Samuel at his best and making plays. 

"'Cupid' has come along and helped us. He’s always been a key asset for us...ever since day one. I don’t understand or he may not understand his threshold of greatness. Today you saw it. A guy who is very slippery when he gets the ball...resilient when he’s running...and shows you the capabilities that he has."

"We have to get the ball in his hands as much as possible."

Meanwhile, for Moore, he finished with four catches for 49 yards - including a 20-yard gain on the Panthers final drive to get them at midfield for the Gano game-winner. 

Moore also had an 18-yard run on a reverse earlier in the game - with Cam Newton opening up the way with a block of his own. 

It will be interesting to see if Moore and Samuel continue to get more reps in this offense with WR Torrey Smith (one target, no catches) and Newton not on the same page at the moment. 

#8 - Defensive Line Struggles

The Carolina Panthers have had issues rushing the passer this season, and Sunday's game against the Giants was a continuation of those struggles. 

Carolina only registered one sack and just two quarterback hits of Eli Manning Sunday against a battered Giants offensive line. 

The sack was credited to linebacker Luke Kuechly, who had Manning fall and give himself up in front of the Panthers linebacker. 

Efe Obada - the star of the Panthers 31-21 win over the Bengals two weeks ago - registered the other hit on Manning on a first down throw. 

Carolina has nine total sacks on the season in four games. 

#9 - Injuries

On top of the victory Sunday, the Panthers were also able to stay relatively healthy after Sunday's win. 

WR Devin Funchess left the game briefly to be evaluated for a concussion following a hit over the middle but returned to the game.

After returning to the game, he later had to leave again with cramps and was given an IV in the locker room. 

Meanwhile, center Ryan Kalil - who played in just six games a year ago - also left the game with minutes left in the 4th quarter. Tyler Larsen came in to replace Kalil for the remainder of the game. 

Head coach Ron Rivera had no update on Kalil postgame, but generally talks to trainer Ryan Vermillion on Monday for further insight. Kalil did walk off the field on his own power. 

#10 - On to Washington!

The Panthers will head out on the road for their next two games with next week's matchup heading north to face the Washington Redskins and former cornerback Josh Norman. 

The Redskins have a chance at knocking off the Panthers' division foe in New Orleans Monday night on ESPN, and Carolina will face Norman and the Redskins on a short week. 

On October 21st, the Panthers will face their third straight and final NFC East opponent as Carolina heads up I-95 even farther to take on the defending Super Bowl Champs, the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Both games are slated for 1 pm kickoffs. 

Expected to return to the lineup this week are veterans and team captains in TE Greg Olsen - who left the Dallas game with a fractured foot - and LB Thomas Davis, who is eligible to return to practice Monday following a four-game suspension in the off-season for a performance-enhancing drug violation. 

 

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