CHARLOTTE – With sixty-eight seconds left, trailing the Giants 31-30, the Panthers offense knew it needed to move the ball quickly to give Pro Bowl kicker Graham Gano a realistic chance to win it.
A 20-yard completion to rookie wideout DJ Moore got the ball rolling. Then a 9-yard run by running back Christian McCaffrey led to Carolina calling its final timeout at the New York 46-yard line with 30 seconds left.
On third-and-1, McCaffrey powered ahead for just enough, but the clock was ticking and valuable seconds were vanishing.
Quarterback Cam Newton spiked it with 12 seconds remaining. At that point, safety Mike Adams nervously turned to assistant special teams coach Heath Farwell to see if a kick was possible.
"I asked the coach, 'Where is the yard line we need to be?' And he said, 'We're already in range,'" Adams recalled. "I said, 'What?!'I was hoping we would get 10 more yards, but we were good."
After an incomplete pass, Gano, who was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts already, trotted onto the field with six seconds remaining. The uprights were officially 63 yards away.
"I was terrified," Moore admitted.
It was such a far kick, Gano got himself set on the other side of the field – the Giants' 43-yard line to be exact.
"Knowing Graham, if we're lining up to kick it I know we've got a shot," guard Trai Turner said. "Let's block this up, and let the chips fall where they may."
The snap from the left hash was perfect. The hold was clean and precise. Gano put his boot through it confidently.
"You could just see the confidence exuding from Graham going into that kick," punter and holder Michael Palardy said. "I knew it was good, 100 percent I knew it. I could tell by the way it came out of my fingers and the sound that it made. This is good."
Gano drove the ball up over the Giants' wall of defenders and it had plenty of distance. It was good with room to spare. Panthers win, 33-31, with a 63-yard conversion that sets a franchise record and ties an NFL record for longest game-winning kick.
"Thank God Graham is our kicker," long snapper J.J. Jansen said in a joking yet at the same time completely serious tone.
Gano has never been short on confidence. And the Panthers have always known about his leg strength.
But still, 63 yards in the final seconds?
"I just have no words for it," Gano said with a smile that's not going anywhere anytime soon. "That was madness. That's the only word I can use to explain it."
Teammates mobbed Gano after the ball sailed through the uprights. Everyone with a camera or a recorder wanted to talk to him. Head coach Ron Rivera awarded him the game ball in the jubilant locker room and owner David Tepper rushed over to share his congratulations.
It capped what was a predetermined day to recognize the value of special teams, as they were the ones who were announced during pregame intros.
"That was pretty neat," Gano said, "but I might leave it to Cam, Luke, TD and those guys to run out and fire the crowd up in the beginning."
Yeah, it's the end of the game when Gano truly knows how to bring a crowd to its feet.
View photos of Graham Gano celebrating with teammates after kicking game winning field goal against Giants.