CHARLOTTE – "Next man up" seems to be a prevailing theme for the Panthers this season. Ankle sprains, shoulder and knee injuries and even concussions have led to many starters missing extended playing time.
It's almost as if punter Andy Lee's injury should have been expected.
Lee pulled his hamstring while warming up for his first-quarter punt, which resulted in a 43-yard boot to Kansas City's 19-yard line, but it turned out to be his lone kick of the game.
"This is the first pull I've ever had, so I don't know how they're supposed to feel or how recovery is supposed to go at all," Lee said. "Hopefully I can sleep tonight and it feels better tomorrow, but I have no clue."
With New Orleans coming to town Thursday, the injury puts Lee at risk of missing the first game of his 13-year career. While the Panthers could possibly sign a punter to fill in for Lee if that is the case, his short-term replacement against the Chiefs was no slouch.
Kicker Graham Gano booted the ball four times in Lee's place for a 45-yard average, including 54-yard boomer that, had it had the right spin, had the potential to pin the Chiefs deep in their own territory.
"Yeah, I was hoping it would check up. but it went into the end zone," Gano said. "I got ahold of a couple of them."
Gano's first punt of the game was almost a game-changer. Maybe it was the spin, or maybe the angle of the ball caught returner Tyreek Hill off-guard, or maybe he just took his eyes off the ball. But after Gano's punt traveled 42 yards, Hill muffed the ball.
Unfortunately for Carolina, Hill was able to recover before gunner Jeremy Cash tackled him for no gain, but the Panthers held the Chiefs to a three-and-out. That forced a Kansas City punt into the end zone for a touchback that the Panthers eventually turned into a rushing touchdown by quarterback Cam Newton.
"Proud to see Gano step in to punt," Newton said. "It's been this kind of season but I reiterate, there's no quit in our team."
It wasn't Gano's first time on punt duty. In addition to serving as Florida State's starting punter for three years, Gano has been called upon once before in similar circumstances with his previous team in the professional ranks.
"It was for the Redskins in my second year," Gano said. "The punter went down in warmups, and I had to step in and punt."
"I'm proud of him," said Lee, who did continue to serve as holder after his injury. "It's a tough job to have to come in and do something you're not used to doing. He did a good job with it."