DENVER – After kicker Graham Gano's last-second field goal missed the mark in the Panthers' one-point loss to the Denver Broncos, linebacker Thomas Davis found himself reliving the deciding play in his head.
It's not what you think.
"Me personally, blitzing on the screen play and not bull-rushing the running back toward the quarterback, that's something that I'm going to look back at from this game that could have made the difference," Davis said.
Davis was referring to the first snap rather than the last snap of the final quarter, a 25-yard catch and run into the end zone for running back C.J. Anderson that got the Broncos back in the game.
Sure, no one could miss Gano's miss, but it wasn't the only one of the night.
It just happened to be the last one.
"It's stressful. I can only imagine how stressful it is for Graham, having to be the one to go out there and make that play," Davis said. "At the end of the day, we have to make that kick, but defensively, we have to close them out. We had a 10-point lead in the second half, and we've got to keep them off the board. That's our job."
There is blame to go around. But, understandably, that was a hard concept for Gano to grasp in the aftermath.
"I feel bad that I let my team down," he said. "We worked really hard tonight to get the win. I wish I could have it back, but I've just got to move on."
Such is the life of a kicker. In a league where close games are a way of life, the weight of the world often rests on the flick of a foot. After the Panthers' defense forced a three-and-out and their offense clawed its way into field goal ranges, those units stood hand-in-hand on the sideline and watched the outcome of a brutally physical night come down to a kick.
Or in this case, two kicks. Gano effortlessly split the uprights from 50 yards as the Broncos were in the process of signaling for the dreaded ice-the-kicker timeout. Gano said he was unfazed by the ploy, but his second kick flew wide left.
"I'm perfectly calm in those situations. It's not different than any other kick, really. I've been doing this for a long time," Gano said. "Those are the moments that you dream of, so it hurts. You want it back.
"I'm human. I'll probably think about it for a little while, but we've got another game next week. I've just got to move on."
Before Gano even made it off the field, safety and special teams leader Colin Jones cut him off at the pass.
"At the end of the day, we all played a hand in the loss. I just wanted to make sure he knew that this didn't fall on his shoulders," Jones said. "There will be another point in the year when he's going to make a kick for us. Just look at last year – how many games did he win for us?
"I just want him to stay positive. It's unfortunate we didn't get the win, but we're going to come back and be better from it."
Last season, Gano made two game-winners and didn't miss the mark a single time with the game on the line. In addition to pulling out a win over the Giants, he made two truly clutch kicks against the Colts, one to tie it up in overtime and then one to win it.
"This isn't going to define my season," Gano said. "A lot of my teammates came up to me and told me I'm going to help us win a lot of games, and I believe it. I wish I could have it back, but the reality is, you can't.
"It's not the first kick I've missed, and it won't be the last game-winning opportunity I'll have. And I'll make them."
View game action photos from Carolina's 21-20 loss to Denver.