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Carolina Panthers

Eddy Piñeiro brings dramatic season to fulfilling close

Eddy Piñeiro

NEW ORLEANS – Panthers special teams coach Chris Tabor never wavered in his support of Eddy Piñeiro, when the easy thing to do would have been to replace him.

At times, things looked bleak for the kicker after Week 8 in Atlanta, but Piñeiro was backed by his teammates, Tabor and interim head coach Steve Wilks.

So when Piñeiro, who missed two potential game-winners in Atlanta, went on a streak of 19 made field goals to end the season, capping it off with a perfect 42-yarder as time expired in a 10-7 win over New Orleans in the season finale, Tabor couldn't help but grin as they headed off into the offseason.

"Remember many moons ago, when I said everything was going to be fine?" Tabor asked with a laugh.

In some ways, Piñeiro's season almost seemed like it was written in a storybook.

"It meant a lot because when you go out and look at the year, he got so scrutinized against Atlanta, missing the field goal," Wilks said. "I told you guys we weren't bringing anyone else in. We're trying nobody else out. We believed in Eddy, and Eddy stayed the course. He's helped us win a lot of football games, and he won this one today for us."

Piñeiro was positioned well to help steal Sunday's win when he came out with three seconds left, even though everyone treated it like a normal kick. Punter/holder Johnny Hekker said nobody on the field goal team looked at Piñeiro or talked to him. They just let him go through his regular pre-kick routine.

Then, Piñeiro drilled it straight down the middle. The Panthers finished a sweep of New Orleans, and an end-of-season victory celebration ensued at midfield, with a mob surrounding Piñeiro, led by his holder.

"He's wildly talented," Hekker said. "Sometimes kickers can be under-appreciated, but Eddy's been a guy that we've just really loved being around and working with. … To contribute this way to end the season is almost poetic for him."

Eddy Piñeiro

Piñeiro finished the year 32-of-34 on field goal attempts, a 94.1 percentage that's the second-best in a single season among Panthers' kickers with at least 30 attempts. The mark is just behind Graham Gano's 96.7 percent in 2017, when Gano went 29-of-30.

Piñeiro's 32 total made field goals this year rank second in Panthers' history for a single season, behind 37 from John Kasay in 1996.

Piñeiro wasn't Carolina's initial plan at kicker. He came in just before the season after Zane Gonzalez suffered a season-ending groin injury in the Panthers' preseason finale.

"Eddy stepped in and really filled the shoes to the best of his ability, but in his own way," Hekker said. "He's worked really hard. He's had an incredible season. It kind of sucks that he hasn't gotten more recognition for the stuff he's done. … I know that he's worked so hard, and he cares a lot about what he does."

Piñeiro was generally steady before that pivotal Week 8 loss to the Falcons, heading into that game 12-of-12 on extra points and 14-of-15 on field goal attempts before the two misses.

He went on to make 19 straight, hear his name chanted at Bank of America Stadium in the Panthers' Week 10 redemption win over Atlanta, earn NFC special teams player of the week honors after a win in Seattle, and feel what it's like to have his teammates chant his name in the visitors' locker room after beating New Orleans.

"Eddy, Eddy, Eddy," wasn't a thing anyone was expecting, but that's what the Panthers were chanting as they came together one last time, before a flight home and a final set of meetings.

"He's a guy that, if he wasn't working hard and wasn't doing everything to the best of his ability, maybe he wouldn't have gotten those opportunities," Hekker said. "But he's a guy that's taken every bit of correction and coaching in stride and has done his best to implement it. He's been a huge asset for our team, and he's helped us win a few games. So I'm proud of him."

For Piñeiro, the opportunity to kick the game-winner and send the Panthers into their offseason on a positive note felt fitting. He did it for a group of people who didn't give up on him.

"It was more than just a kick today," Piñeiro said. "I was thinking about my teammates, coaches, the whole staff.

"It was amazing."

View photos from the field and locker room after the Panthers beat the Saints at the buzzer in Week 18.

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