CHARLOTTE — When the ball left his foot, Joey Slye thought he made it.
During pregame, the kicker had sailed one through the uprights from 60 yards that had 5 to 10 more yards of distance on it. Slye has also hit off the tee in practice from 70 yards out and from 73 with the wind at his back.
On this kick, Slye's process was solid as he swung his right leg, from his stance to his chest, to the extension as he followed through. And the ball's trajectory was right down the middle.
"I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be good by at least two or three (yards),'" Slye said.
But this 65-yard field goal attempt, which would've been the longest field goal in league history, was just short. Not by much, as the slow-motion replays showed the ball going end over end before fading just in front of the uprights.
"Feel like, obviously, I let the team down," Slye said. "They put trust in me to go out there, and every single time I'm on the field, I'm expecting to do my job at the highest level."
Missing the field goal essentially sealed Carolina's 27-24 loss in New Orleans, dropping the club to 3-4 on the season. But considering it was a 65-yard attempt, Slye was hard to blame. The real problem came on the snap before his near-record make.
The Panthers had third-and-11 from the New Orleans 39. That would've been a 57-yard field goal attempt — long, but makeable considering Slye's leg strength. As quarterback Teddy Bridgewater dropped back, he had wide receiver Curtis Samuel on the left side, streaking toward the end zone in a one-on-one matchup with cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
"We had the perfect play call," Bridgewater said. "Probably would've scored a touchdown if we had got it off."
But Bridgewater's pocket quickly collapsed. Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport started his rush to the outside before looping back inside to pressure Bridgewater up the middle. Running back Mike Davis got in front of Davenport, but it was no use. The quarterback couldn't avoid Davenport's grasp as he tried to step up, getting taken down for a critical 8-yard loss.
"I tried to step up, I was going to throw it away, but there were no outlets for me to just dirt it," Bridgewater said. "Hats off to those guys. They schemed up the protection that we had called, and they prevented us from making a play and forced us out of field goal range."
With Davis in the backfield to pass block and Robby Anderson, DJ Moore, and Ian Thomas all at least 20 yards downfield on the right side of the play, Bridgewater didn't have an easy outlet. Still, the play's result was ruinous. So was the timing. Before it, the Saints had no sacks and just one QB hit.
"Obviously, that sack was a fatal blow there," head coach Matt Rhule said. "We can't take a sack there no matter who it is. Whether it's the offensive line, the receivers, whatever, we just can't take a sack. That's the only thing that couldn't have happened there was that."
Rhule wasn't left with many good choices on fourth-and-17 from the New Orleans 47, especially considering he had one timeout left. Punting may have pinned the Saints deep, but it wouldn't have left much time for the offense had the defense gotten a stop. But frankly, the Panthers hadn't stopped the Saints all day.
"We don't have a lot of those (offensive play) calls we feel good about," Rhule said. "(W)e felt (Slye) would have a chance. Our odds with fourth-and-17, we felt like, were less than that. Obviously, it was not ideal."
So Rhule turned to Slye, the kicker who had been on the reserve/COVID-19 list all week while self-isolating. Slye stayed ready by kicking on an empty field with his swing coach, taking special precautions to stay socially distanced. He also worked out at a local gym at 1:00 a.m. so that no one else would be around.
"I was just trying to stay as prepped as I could for this week," Slye said.
Slye rejoined the team Friday and didn't miss a beat while hitting a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter and three extra points.
But then there was the 65-yard miss. While Slye was frustrated because he thinks could've hit it, he understood it wasn't a gimmie.
"From that deep and the ball that I hit, this is probably the one miss in my career if I ever have any — hopefully, I don't have any more — but this is one of the ones I'm OK with living with," Slye said.
As the Panthers continue to build their team, Sunday should be a situation everyone will be able to learn from. That sack was the difference between a more makeable field goal versus needing to hit one at a length no kicker has ever hit from previously. And that can be the difference between winning and losing.
"We left a couple plays out there today, a couple big plays," Bridgewater said. "If you leave too many plays against a team like that, you get beat."
View in-game photos of Week 7 of Panthers at Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.