CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Luke Kuechly may not be the only Panthers' Pro Bowler after all.
Kicker Graham Gano is the first alternate behind Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who was just placed on injured reserve with a back injury.
"Just to be honored as the first alternate is pretty exciting," Gano said. "It's nice to be recognized by your peers and by the fans as the first alternate."
Unfortunately, his first career Pro Bowl nomination comes at the expense of a friend in the NFL kicking fraternity.
"I was texting Greg last night. I hate that for him," Gano said. "He's had one of the best seasons I've ever seen."
Zuerlein converted 38-of-40 field goal attempts – including 6-of-7 from 50-plus – before his season-ending injury.
Gano has hit 25-of-26 attempts, missing the only 50-plus kick he's taken. His most memorable kick came in Week 4 against the Patriots when his 48-yarder sailed through the uprights in the final seconds for a 33-30 win.
It's no accident that the best year of his career has come after a training camp and preseason battle for the job with rookie Harrison Butker, who is now kicking extremely well for the Chiefs.
"Coach Rivera said in the offseason he was going to bring in competition in all phases, and he did it – he wasn't lying," Gano said. "The competition, especially for me with Harrison, was great."
OLSEN SAVORING SUCCESS: Tight end Greg Olsen has been all smiles since recording nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in the win over Green Bay.
The road to recovery from foot surgery is not an easy one, and that 100-yard performance – Olsen's first since Week 5 of the 2016 season against Tampa Bay – was particularly gratifying considering all the time he spent watching and rehabbing.
"For the first time all season, I felt like myself," Olsen said. "I felt like I was back and a part of what we were doing. I felt really confident about every play.
"You get into a rhythm like that and it's hard to describe, but you kind of feel like you're always open. You feel like no matter what they do, you can get open and get the ball."
There's no better feeling for a pass catcher, especially for one coming off their first game without a catch since the 2011 season finale.
"That's fun when you start rolling like that," Olsen said. "You wish you could bottle that up and do it all the time, but obviously we know that's not the way it works."
BERSIN WITH PRIDE: Wofford's leading receiver for three consecutive seasons excitedly screamed at his television as his alma mater's basketball team made history Wednesday night, but he didn't dare scream anything in the direction of the Terriers' victim.
Wide receiver Brenton Bersin basked in Wofford's 79-75 victory over fifth-ranked North Carolina – the first victory over an Associated Press top 25 team in program history – but he didn't rub it in the face of former Tar Heels football and basketball star Julius Peppers.
"No, I stayed away from Julius," Bersin said. "Olsen tried to talk smack for me, and I just kind of stayed from it. Don't want to mess with him."
Bersin said his girlfriend picked on him for his unbridled excitement in front of the TV, but the proud alum couldn't help himself.
"Probably the most excited I've been watching a sporting event," Bersin said. "It was fun to watch."
ANOTHER KALIL ON THE FIELD: Like she did in 2012 when Matt Kalil and Vikings hosted Ryan Kalil and the Panthers, Danielle Kalil will sing the national anthem before her brothers play Sunday's home finale at Bank of America Stadium.
"If the roles were swapped, I think I would mess it up," Ryan said. "If I make a mistake in a game, I usually get about 50 other plays to make up for it. You only get one shot at the anthem."
View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Buccaneers.