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Eddy Piñeiro's game-winning field goal the "exclamation point" to first win

Eddy Piñeiro

CHARLOTTE – Eddy Piñeiro lined up with the pressure of the Panthers' first win on his back – err, right foot.

Piñeiro went through his routine prayer and pointed his hands toward the sky before kicking the ball from 38 yards out, attempting a game-clinching field goal. He thought about how much he wanted it for the fans.

"That one was for the fans," Piñeiro said. "Thinking before the kick, I was just like, man, this fanbase really deserves this. We're 0-6. Let's get this W and go home."

It wasn't quite that simple.

Johnny Hekker, Eddy Piñeiro

Penalties against Houston cornerback Tavierre Thomas (including a hit against punter Johnny Hekker, Piñeiro's holder) kept it from being the end of it. With the offsides penalty against Thomas, Piñeiro didn't make that attempt anyway.

So he was able to do his ritual again from 28 yards out. And he nailed the kick.

But there was yet another penalty on Thomas, who moved toward Piñeiro unabated, and the officials ruled the ball had to be kicked again since officials had blown the play dead.

The third time was the charm; Piñeiro sailed a 23-yard field goal at Bank of America Stadium for Carolina's first win, a 15-13 victory over visiting Houston.

Piñeiro heard the Texans' jeers as the pressure mounted kick after kick after kick.

"The guys were, 'Oh, you're going to miss it,'" he said. "They're just trying to get in your head, and I just stayed focused, followed my technique, and just did my normal prayer that I usually do before I kick. And that's it."

Johnny Hekker, Eddy Piñeiro

Piñeiro leaped onto Hekker's back after the final kick, a move that had been planned out since the two predicted a walk-off field goal together during their ride from the team hotel to the stadium this morning.

Piñeiro told him he wanted to jump on Hekker's back and run with him to the 50-yard line after a game-winning kick. Hekker said it was a done deal, (ironically) feeling especially confident that the opportunity would come after Piñeiro missed the extra point after Carolina's first touchdown on Sunday.

"He missed the PAT, and we just looked at each other like, 'Alright, we're going to get that game-winner, and then you're going to jump on my back,'" Hekker said. "So it was a deal where we had premeditated and wished it into existence. Happy for him."

It took extra focus for Piñeiro to maintain calmness as the end-game sequence grew more chaotic. It's not uncommon for teams to take timeouts or try to jump and get a kicker out of focus through multiple attempts. But it happened three times at the end of the game, and Piñeiro made that game-winning kick twice.

Piñeiro said he'd never experienced that sequence quite to that extent before, but he didn't let it shake him.

Eddy Piñeiro, Johnny Hekker, Tommy Tremble

"I felt super confident," he said. "My teammates have always got my back, and Johnny's there. … The other team was just like, 'You're going to miss it.' You try to just get away from them. And like I said, I stuck to my routine. I did my prayer. I asked God to please help me, and he came through for me.

"I asked God three different times to help me."  

Head coach Frank Reich said that flurry of intentional penalties and jumping offsides is a strategy he has seen deployed before to try to "rattle" a kicker, and he complimented Piñeiro's steadiness in the face of chaos.

"As soon as it started to play out like that, you just keep your cool," Reich said. "Eddy did a good job of keeping his cool and just was clutch like we knew he would be."

Piñeiro earned his first game ball in the locker room after the victory, a testament to how he ended a close game behind an effort to get a defensive stop and for the offense to move him into field goal range late.

Eddy Piñeiro, Bryce Young

Reich presented a game ball to Piñeiro, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown (who called his first game against Houston), and rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

"He's the man," Piñeiro said of Reich. "He deserves all the credit. I'm happy for him. He's a great coach. He's a great leader, a great mentor. Everybody loves him in the locker room, and we got his back."

Hekker echoed how much Piñeiro's field goal and the win reflected the work that went into it.

"Great kick for him and for our team," Hekker said. "To get that win means a lot, and it's the culmination of a lot of hard work for a lot of people. Eddy got to be the exclamation point, but what a great job by our offense moving the ball down the field, getting us in range, and defense getting a stop on the drive before. Just super proud of all the guys on our team."

Eddy Piñeiro

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