CHICAGO – Justin Medlock, virtually a spectator in his first six games with the Panthers, became the first Carolina kicker in nearly eight years to boot at least five field goals in a game Sunday.
But because the Panthers had to call on Medlock for field goals more often than extra points, he was reduced to a spectator for Bears kicker Robbie Gould's 41-yard field goal as time expired that gave Chicago a 23-22 victory at Soldier Field.
"It's a tough loss," Medlock said. "It's a team game, and we're here to win, but at the same time all I can control is kicking field goals and helping the team out. That part was good."
Medlock entered the game with an NFL-low two field goal attempts, making both. Sunday, he more than doubled his attempts with a 5-for-5 effort, topped in team history only by John Kasay's 6-for-6 effort on Dec. 5, 2004, at New Orleans.
"I wanted to get in a groove the first couple of games by kicking some field goals. It didn't happen, but I kind of figured they would come in bunches at some point," Medlock said. "They finally came at the windiest place and on a tough field, but it was good to come through and help the team."
Medlock's most difficult kick came in the most heart-pounding of circumstances. With less than three minutes to go, Medlock faced swirling winds that gusted to 25 miles per hour for a 45-yard attempt to regain the lead. The boot cut through the wind just enough to ricochet off the right upright for a 22-20 lead.
"Before the game I said, ‘Anything from 45 to 50 yards on that left hash is going to one of the toughest kicks on the whole field,' " Medlock said. "You have to hold it off and not let it turn over. I hit it good, but right away, I was like, ‘Oh no, it's going to turn.' Luckily, it was good by an inch."
Beyond that, the most talked-about kick for Medlock was the one that didn't happen. After the Panthers forced a turnover with eight seconds left in the first half and advanced the ball to the Chicago 33 with three seconds left, they passed on a 51-yard field goal and instead passed to the end zone Hail Mary style.
Medlock said the kick would have been at the absolute outer limit of his range given the blustery conditions, but the decision understandably came up after a one-point loss.
"Because of the crosswind the ball was going to get pushed, so we decided our best bet was to throw it to the end zone and see what happened," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "In hindsight. you can say that maybe we should have gone ahead and tried it. But that's kind of like when we kicked the ball short and out of bounds, in hindsight you could say we should have gone for it. It's easy to second-guess at this point."
Rivera was referring to a 6-yard punt shanked off the side of punter
Both Medlock and Nortman had orders not to kick the ball to returner extraordinaire Devin Hester, but Hester ended up having an impact without even touching the ball. Some of Medlock's squibs worked well and some did not, resulting in an average starting position of the 32-yard line, while Nortman averaged just 25.7 yards on his three punts.
The Panthers overcame an 11-yard field position disadvantage on average to score two more times than the Bears, but Medlock's productive day was a bit too productive.
"When you have that many possessions in the red zone, you've got to capitalize," Panthers quarterback