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Kicker Gano thrives in pressure situations


CHARLOTTE – While the Panthers have lost close games in a variety of ways this season, no game has hung in balance with Carolina's kicker lining up for a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

If that does happen, the Panthers believe they have their man.

Graham Gano, signed by the team Tuesday, tied an NFL record with three successful overtime field goals in 2010 as a member of the Washington Redskins.

"That's what every kicker dreams of. If you don't want that pressure, something is wrong with you," Gano said. "I love those situations. I hope every game comes down to that."

Gano has had to deal with a different sort of pressure the last few months – the pressure of being out of work. But two days after Justin Medlock missed a 40-yarder in the first half of Sunday's overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Panthers brought in Gano and former San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding before signing Gano.

"They were both very good," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "We saw tape of Graham, and when we watched him during the workout, there were a lot of positives. Hopefully, those things hold true.

"He kicked the ball very well. He kicked field goals from all over the field – hit a 62-yarder – and on his first kickoff he kicked them into the (tackling) dummies behind the end zone. It was pretty impressive."

Medlock, in his first year with the team, made his first seven field goals, including a 5-for-5 performance at Chicago that could have included the game-winner if not for a last-second field goal by the Bears.

Medlock had one partially blocked at Washington the next week, however, and then he missed a 43-yarder late in the first half against Denver that Rivera termed a big momentum shifter. Sunday's miss could have been the difference between winning and losing.

"It was a tough decision because the young man is promising, but in light of the situation and the things we've been talking about as far as productivity, he's had opportunities and had to make those kicks," Rivera said. "We had to move on."

Gano, who once upon a time beat out Medlock for the Redskins job, has been in Medlock's shoes. Gano made 14 of his last 15 field goals in Washington last season, including one just moments after sustaining three broken vertebrae Week 17 at Philadelphia, where Gano will make his Panthers debut Monday night.

Fully recovered, Gano barely got an opportunity to show his stuff with Washington in the preseason, not even attempting a field goal attempt.

"I finished up last season real well, so it was a bit of a shock to get released," Gano said. "It's stressful, but I'm a man of faith. I believe God has a plan for my life, and that's what has kept me strong.

"I want to help the team win. That's what I'm here for. I see it as another opportunity to do what I love to do."

Gano is mentally and physically tough. In addition to kicking after Eagles defensive end Jason Babin kneed him following a blocked field goal and broke his back, Gano made all four field goals in four games as a rookie in 2009 with a broken bone in his kicking foot.

As a senior at Florida State, Gano suffered a torn meniscus in his knee two weeks before the season started, but he had surgery the next day, missed just two games and never missed a beat, winning the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker after a 24-of-26 season.

"I feel healthier than ever right now," Gano said. "I know things haven't gone as planned around here, but it's never too late to turn it around. I'm looking forward to helping out."

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