CHARLOTTE — Ryan Santoso hadn't even been in what could become his new city for 24 hours when he took the field at Bank of America Stadium for the first time.
But by the end of the night, it was beginning to look like his new home.
Santoso had a perfect debut (even a near-miss became a hit), while Joey Slye's slump continued, pointing to a likely change at kicker. Slye missed a 49-yard field goal early in the second quarter, and other than a late extra point, Santoso handled the rest of the kicking for points the rest of the night.
The fact that he handled them successfully made his transition here easier. His first attempt was from 52 yards, and hit the right upright before pinging inside for three points. He also hit a 27-yard field goal and three extra points, which is amazing considering he met his holder and snapper in pregame warm-ups.
"It's been a journey," Santoso said to begin his press conference. "The last 24 hours have been a whirlwind, but it's been a blessing."
Whirlwind might be underselling it.
The Panthers traded for the former Giants kicker Thursday afternoon, while he was wrapping up a joint practice with the Patriots. When he heard the news, he got a hug and some quick advice from Giants kicker Graham Gano (whose old Panthers number 9 Santoso was wearing here), and started trying to make his way to Charlotte.
Thursday was also his 26th birthday. But instead of presents, he threw his red, white, and blue cleats in a bag and jumped on the first plane he could catch from Boston, and landed here around 8 p.m. (Also, he was just married two months ago Thursday, so he's had a lot of stuff going on in his life, but he is happy to report: "It's all awesome.")
Then he had to come to the stadium, and actually find some solid white cleats to match his new uniform, and fill out paperwork, and try to get some sleep so he could meet his new teammates and play in a game.
Santoso said he was fortunate that Gano was so helpful to him, in terms of learning kicking this summer, as well as some tips about his new city.
"Graham is like an older brother to me," Santoso said. "If i could give him a hug right now, I would."
On the other side of the coin, the hugs carried a different emotional tone.
Slye spent a lot of his night after the missed field goal alone on the sidelines, with a few people coming up to offer encouragement. It was a bad day in his professional life, perhaps one of his last ones here. In the fourth quarter, he sat in quiet conversation with long snapper J.J. Jansen, who consoled his friend. Jansen came to the post-game press conference (rare for a long snapper), which spoke volumes.
"What we talked about we'll keep between ourselves," Jansen said. "But he's a good friend, and he's a good kicker. And the last couple of weeks have been not what we all have hoped. We were just chatting as friends and as teammates."
Likewise, Panthers coach Matt Rhule was clearly pained to see what has happened to Slye in recent weeks. The miss Friday was his fourth of the preseason, erasing much of the good work he had done this offseason.
"He's a wonderful person, and he's worked really hard," Rhule said. "He's made a lot of kicks and he's done a lot of good things, and he's just in one of those places right now where he's struggling. When you struggle at a lot of other positions, people don't know it, but when you struggle at that position, unfortunately, it's magnified. But he's been a brother to these guys, and he's worked with these guys, so they want to see him succeed. It's the power of the locker room and the brotherhood you're trying to create.
"Joey's an unbelievable person. He hasn't shied away from any of this. He's trying to work his way through it. He's out there working extra, kicking extra, trying to mechanically get himself to where he wants to be."
The Panthers, however, have a choice to make. Cuts are due Tuesday, but coaches and the personnel staff will meet Saturday morning to begin discussing the future.
From the tone of Friday night's conversations, it wouldn't be surprising if the change which looked apparent became official.
View in-game photos from the Panthers preseason finale against the Steelers.