CHARLOTTE – When kicker Graham Gano missed a 46-yard field goal that would have given the Panthers the lead with 1:22 left in Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, it seemed highly unlikely that he'd get another chance.
Yet there Gano was, with one second left on the clock, lining up for a 63-yard field goal that would have given the Panthers the victory.
"I was wanting that opportunity really bad to redeem myself after the first one," Gano said. "It's just unfortunate that it ended that way."
Gano's kick, which would have been one yard shy of matching the longest in NFL history, was blocked by defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman to seal the Falcons' 19-17 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
Gano, who has made 70-yarders in practice, said he was confident based on the contact he made with the ball that Hageman's arm spelled the difference between the Falcons earning a share of the NFC South lead and the Panthers reclaiming first place outright.
"I've kicked long enough where I can tell if it's a good ball or not, and I felt like that ball was going to hit the net," Gano said. "I've been blessed with a strong leg, so I don't have to change the way I kick it. I hit that ball just like I do the rest, and I hit it well. It felt good coming off my foot."
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case on Gano's higher-percentage kick. Gano had made 12-of-16 kicks from between 40 and 49 yards as a Panther, and his reliability from that range contributed to head coach Ron Rivera's decision to run the ball once the Panthers reached the 32-yard line with 1:42 to play.
"We forced them to use timeouts. We ran what we felt were good runs," Rivera said. "If we get the first down, we are closer. If not, they use all three timeouts. We make the field goal. We kickoff, and now they don't have any timeouts."
But on fourth down from the 28 after the Panthers gained four yards on three running plays, Gano's kick sailed slightly left of the uprights.
"I can hit kicks from there all day long. I've just got to do a better job," Gano said. "I just missed the kick. I could stand here and make excuses, but I'm not that type of man. (Long snapper) J.J. (Jansen) and (holder) Brad (Nortman) have been solid all year. I've just got to put it through the uprights."
The Panthers gave Gano another chance against all odds. The defense forced a three-and-out, but with just two timeouts left for Carolina, Atlanta was able to whittle the clock down to 22 seconds before the Panthers took over at their own 16-yard line.
But three passes to rookie Kelvin Benjamin, two of which featured laterals to get the ball out of bounds and stop the clock, moved the ball to Atlanta's 45 to set up Gano's last-second second chance.
Gano had made seven consecutive field goals from 50 or more yards, but a 63-yarder isn't exactly the same.
"It's tough. It hurts for sure," Gano said. "I know the fans are disappointed, know the team is disappointed. I don't think there's anybody more disappointed than I am right now.
"I can't wait until the next game. I hope it comes down to a field goal again."