CINCINNATI – This was a weird one.
"It was an interesting, crazy flow of emotions," tight end Greg Olsen said.
Sunday's back-and-forth game between the Panthers and Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium involved five full quarters, just one punt for each team, 944 total yards, wind-impacted kicks, an 89-yard touchdown run, an 80-yard interception return and a 97-yard kickoff return.
And the weirdest thing about it was the final score – 37-37. Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent missed a 36-yard field goal as overtime expired, giving Carolina its first tie in franchise history.
"We missed opportunities, and that's what we are going to harp on," head coach Ron Rivera said. "If you come to town and you play a good football team like this and you've got a chance to beat them in their place, you've got to do it."
For coaches and players alike, coming to grips with a tie was both foreign and difficult.
"It's tough. Both teams had opportunities to win and both teams are probably disappointed that they didn't come through," defensive tackle Dwan Edwards said. "We didn't lose, but I feel like we did let this one slip away."
After trailing 17-10 at halftime, the Panthers stormed back in the third quarter.
With Cincinnati threatening, linebacker Thomas Davis blitzed and got a piece of quarterback Andy Dalton's elbow as he threw, and cornerback Antoine Cason easily picked off the errant pass. He returned the interception 80 yards to the Bengals' 10-yard line.
"Those are the kind of plays we have to make as a defense," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "When we have pressures called, we have to get to the quarterback."
Two plays later, running back Fozzy Whittaker's first career rushing touchdown – a 4-yard run up the middle – tied the game.
Carolina then forced Cincinnati to punt for the first and only time, and the Panthers moved 77 yards in six plays to take the 24-17 lead. Quarterback Cam Newton, who finished with 107 rushing yards on 17 carries, kept the ball for a 12-yard touchdown run.
Safety Roman Harper intercepted an overthrown pass by Dalton on the ensuing possession. But instead of adding to the lead, the score remain unchanged.
A 17-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who caught a 3-yard touchdown in first quarter, was nullified for offensive pass interference. Graham Gano then missed a 38-yard field goal attempt wide right.
"I've just got to have a better kick," Gano said when asked about the impact of the heavy wind. "I've got to put the ball through the uprights."
Cincinnati tied the game early in the fourth quarter when Dalton tossed a 34-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mohammed Sanu.
Carolina took the lead right back with a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Newton converted a fourth-and-two by calmly firing a 13-yard strike to Benjamin. Four plays later, he rolled right and floated a pass on a backside screen to Olsen for a 13-yard touchdown.
The Panthers were in good shape with a 31-24 lead and 4:50 remaining in the game.
That all changed when Gano drove his kickoff into the wind, and Adam Jones returned it 97 yards.
"Disappointing," Rivera said. "They split us right up the gut. We have to try to eliminate the holes. Pac Man hit it full-stride."
Colin Jones made the touchdown-saving tackle at the 3-yard line. But running back Jeremy Hill found the end zone on the first play to tie the game.
Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson intercepted Newton's overthrown pass for Benjamin and returned it to the Carolina 24-yard line with 3:22 remaining. The Bengals settled for a 38-yard Nugent field goal to take a 34-31 lead with 2:11 left.
With two timeouts left, Newton engineered a 12-play, 54-yard drive to set up Gano for the game-tying 44-yard field goal as regulation ended.
The Bengals received to begin overtime and a sack by defensive end Charles Johnson on third-and-seven forced Cincinnati to kick a 42-yard field goal.
Carolina then had its chance to tie or win the game. The Panthers matriculated down the field, making their way into scoring position. And on second-and-six from the Bengals' 23-yard line, Newton lofted a pass to the end zone for wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery that at first looked like a game-ending interception before looking like a game-ending touchdown.
It was neither.
"It was just really unfortunate. (Bengals cornerback Jones) misjudged it. He jumped early," Cotchery said. "And on his way down he kind of knocked my arms apart a little bit. I tried to squeeze it but I couldn't bring it in."
On third-and-six, Benjamin hauled in a pass a yard short of the first down. Rivera thought about going for it on fourth-and-one but decided to tie the game with a 36-yard field goal by Gano with 2:19 left in overtime.
"A little too much," Rivera said. "I really thought about going for it, but it was outside the one (yard). It was a long one-and-a-half, one-and-three quarters."
A 24-yard pass to Bengals wide receiver James Wright, combined with a roughing the passer penalty on Johnson, put Cincinnati in position to win the game at the Carolina 16-yard line.
But Nugent's 36-yard attempt sailed wide right and time expired with both teams deadlocked at 37. It's just the second time since the league adopted new overtime rules in 2012 that a game has ended in a tie when both teams scored in overtime.
"It's weird, you don't know what to think," center Ryan Kalil said. "Obviously, you take that over a loss. But we had a lot of opportunities. We didn't get it done."