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Eddy Piñeiro's redemption comes with fans chanting his name

Johnny Hekker, Eddy Piñeiro

CHARLOTTE – Chants that rang out of Bank of America Stadium near the end of the fourth quarter in the Panthers' 25-15 win over Atlanta on Thursday would've been unthinkable just 11 days before.

Eddy Piñeiro, the kicker who shouldered a chunk of the blame in Carolina's overtime loss to Atlanta after missing two key kicks that could've won that game, trotted out to attempt a 37-yard field goal with 14 seconds left. The Panthers had a seven-point lead, and Piñeiro had already made three field goal attempts on a rainy, windy evening.

With a third NFC South victory virtually locked for Carolina if he made it, fans started a cheer that made Piñeiro, admittedly, almost teary-eyed: "Ed-dy, Ed-dy, Ed-dy."

"That was pretty cool," long snapper JJ Jansen said.

The fanbase rallied around Piñeiro, much like the Panthers had been doing since his bad game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"It was a special moment for me, for my family, for my teammates, just being able to go out there and show them that people can have bad games, and they can come back and bounce back," Piñeiro said. "That's just part of the kicking game. You're the hero one day, and then you're the villain."

He missed a 48-yard extra point and a 33-yard field goal attempt in Atlanta, two costly errors that could've put that game away in Week 8. But interim coach Steve Wilks said they didn't look into other options. And the locker room, which had supported Piñeiro since surrounding the media in a postgame press conference back in Atlanta, didn't seem to lose faith either.

Eddy Piñeiro

That's why Piñeiro felt so much pride putting up four good field goals (from 46, 49, 40, and the final 37-yarder) in the second matchup with Atlanta, accounting for 12 points in a 10-point victory. He needed it.

"It was definitely a confidence booster," Piñeiro said. "It felt amazing being on primetime TV on Thursday night, but especially in front of everyone and in front of my teammates. I was just more happy that I was able to do it for my team.

"I don't really mind it about myself, more for my teammates and how hard they fought. Obviously, it was heartbreaking two weeks ago from how hard they fought, and we should have won that game."

Wilks expressed a consistent faith in Piñeiro following the heartbreaker in Atlanta. He said Piñeiro had impressed in practice, and the sent the kicker out with the captains for the coin toss before playing Cincinnati a week later, a tacit show of support.

If anyone had second thoughts about Piñeiro after the first Falcons game, no one said them out loud.

"I wasn't nervous at all," Wilks said Thursday night. "I thought Eddy did a great job again, just in practice, bouncing back. … We created different scenarios for him in those situations, and it just says a lot about him as a person. You've got to hit the reset button – all the guys do – and just understand that it happens sometimes. But the way he came back tonight, I'm just so proud of him."

Piñeiro didn't attempt a field goal in a blowout loss to the Bengals, but he made all three extra points. In his Atlanta revenge game, Piñeiro missed one extra point, though a rare low snap by Jansen contributed to that one.

The weather is part of what made Piñeiro's comeback game on Thursday Night Football even more memorable. Rain pelted down from the remnants of Hurricane Nicole at an inconsistent pace; sometimes, it poured, and other times drizzled. While officially listed in the game's statistical notebook at 11 miles per hour, the wind was gusty at times.

"That was definitely the worst weather game I've ever had to play, and that's including (when) I played in Chicago, one of the worst places to kick," Piñeiro said. "It was windy. It was raining. There were gusts of wind. It was just unpredictable. It was terrible."

Eddy Piñeiro

Piñeiro explained that he and holder Johnny Hekker pick targets in the crowd, such as a speaker or another distinct mark, to aim his kicks. In Thursday's challenging conditions, that target was consistently changing.

"We're either aiming a little bit right or a little bit left, just depending on what the wind is doing in that exact moment," Piñeiro said. "It was changing up every second, so we had to adjust."

Piñeiro and Hekker adjusted well, and Piñeiro's now 18-of-20 on field goals this season (90.0 percent), and 16-of-18 on extra points.

Aside from his fellow specialists in Jansen and Hekker, Piñeiro said backup quarterback Baker Mayfield, a teammate who took time to speak with him after the first Atlanta game, made a point to hug him after his comeback game. Piñeiro said Wilks also pulled him to the side to give him encouraging words.

"He was like, 'Man, I knew you could do this. I'm so, so, so happy for you,'" Piñeiro said. "He thanked me for fighting. He was like, 'Just keep fighting.'"

When Wilks delivered the opening statement of his postgame press conference, he mentioned the dominant run game, then talked about a defense which sacked Marcus Mariota five times, including some key stops late. Then he capped it off with praises for Piñeiro, days ago an unpopular Panther who redeemed himself in front of the home crowd.

"I can't say enough about Eddy," Wilks said. "Just a tremendous job of how he rebounded and bounced back. I'm so excited about him and where his teammates just rallied behind him."

And when Piñeiro heard about Wilks' public seal of approval, he couldn't help his excitement, repeating how "awesome" it was to have Wilks back him with overwhelming support after the Atlanta win. From his teammates encouraging him on the sidelines, his coach commending him in front of the media, and the crowd cheering his name in the game's final seconds, Piñeiro had returned to favor in Carolina.

And his rainy redemption game was a cinematic way to do it.

Go inside a celebratory locker room and see the players greet each other on the field after the Thursday Night Football victory.

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