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Eddy Piñeiro keeping it steady in the kicking game

Eddy Piñeiro

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have figured out how to win after crushing losses (see: Atlanta after Cincinnati or Detroit after Pittsburgh).

But with the final two games of the regular season on deck, it's time to string together consistency, win at Tampa Bay, and lock up the NFC South amid division chaos.

And when it comes to late-season consistency, the Panthers shouldn't need to look much further than kicker Eddy Piñeiro for inspiration.

Piñeiro has made 17 straight field goals since missing the game-winning 32-yard attempt in a Week 8 overtime loss at Atlanta, on a perfect stretch through November and December.

"The best thing I can do is try to be as consistent as I can, try to make all my field goals, try to put the team in the best position to win," Piñeiro said. "That's all, and that's what they brought me here for."

Piñeiro hasn't been flawless at Carolina since coming in for an injured Zane Gonzalez just after the preseason. Though his missed extra point and field goal attempt in the first Falcons game were pivotal, Piñeiro has since only missed one extra point (in a Week 10 win over Atlanta) and hasn't missed any field goals in that span.

There have been tough times with Piñeiro, but the Panthers didn't give up on him, and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor stood by him. Since then, the kicker has continued to bounce back.

Heading into Week 17, Piñeiro is 26-of-28 (92.9 percent) on extra points and 31-of-33 (93.9 percent) on field goals. His 31 made field goals are the third-most in a single season in Panthers' history.

Piñeiro in 2022 is behind John Kasay's 32 field goals in a 2003 campaign to the Super Bowl and 37 in the 1996 season that ended in the NFC Championship.

This year has called for kicks in challenging weather conditions. Recall the tropical storm in a Thursday night rematch with the Falcons, a signature rainy afternoon in Seattle, and the recent record-breaking cold at home against Detroit.

Piñeiro made four extra points and three field goals (37, 40, and 36 yards) in Saturday's win over the Lions. Bank of America Stadium reached 20 degrees at kickoff on a sunny Christmas Eve, though winds at 10 miles per hour brought the wind chill down to 9 degrees.

Cold weather makes the football feel harder, Piñeiro said, and the wind was more of a factor than he had anticipated going into the game.

"(The football) was way harder than I thought it was going to be; ended up being windier than I thought too," Piñeiro said. "That was one of the windiest days in a long time in the stadium, and obviously, it doesn't help when the ball feels like a rock."

Some of Piñeiro's longer kicks fell short in warmups, likely due to the weather, but he saw conditions improve throughout the afternoon.

"When the game started, the ball started flying a little bit better; I felt like it got a little bit warmer," Piñeiro said. "But the wind just kept taking it toward our tunnel and kept taking it left. It was weird. Only a kicker would understand."

Piñeiro knows what the Panthers are playing for in warmer Tampa Bay next week, and he has bought into interim coach Steve Wilks' day-by-day message.

He is on a streak but isn't getting ahead of himself. There is more work to be done.

"Just trying to stay focused, make every kick I possibly can, staying focused with my teammates," Piñeiro said. "Like coach Wilks said, just taking it one day at a time and attack each day."

View the best in-game photos from Carolina's Week 16 game against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve.

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