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Panthers come to Tampa hoping to give their kicking problems the boot

Typically steady kicker Graham Gano's misses have played a role in the Panthers' past two losses.
Detroit Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (24) waves his arms as Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano (9) watches his missed field goal during a game earlier this season in Detroit. [AP Photo/Rey Del Rio]
Detroit Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson (24) waves his arms as Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano (9) watches his missed field goal during a game earlier this season in Detroit. [AP Photo/Rey Del Rio]
Published Nov. 30, 2018

TAMPA —  The Bucs aren't the only team whose season has been adversely affected by its kicking game.

The Carolina Panthers come to Tampa Sunday with a placekicking problem.

Panthers kicker Graham Gano has been a steady leg for the Panthers dating back to 2012. And last year, he converted a league-best 96.7 percent of his field goals, prompting Carolina to sign him to a four-year, $17-million extension in the offseason.

But Gano missed a 52-yard field goal attempt that would have given the Panthers the lead in last week's three-point loss to Seattle, and he missed a field goal and extra-point attempt in a one-point loss to Detroit two weeks ago.

That prompted the Panthers to try out several kickers this week. Among that group was a familiar name: former Tampa Bay kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who was released earlier this month after booting away his future with the Bucs.

But Carolina coach Ron Rivera gave Gano his endorsement during this week's opposing coach conference call with Bucs writers.

"It's tough, because the guy's been so good for us," Rivera said. "And the one thing I'll say is that whenever he's had a setback, whenever he's had a challenge. he's come back and played very well for us, so I expect him to shake it off and get going forward. I really do believe in who he can be for us and who he's been for us.

"He had a streak of, like, 45 straight kicks in a row for us or something like that. So he'll shake it off, he'll go forward. It's an unfortunate part of this game and nature of the game, too, because you've got to make plays when you get the chance, and the thing I like is that he responded."

It is clearly a different situation than the kicking carousel the Bucs have been in. Cairo Santos, who made both of his field-goal attempts and is a perfect 8-for-8 on extra points in his two games with the Bucs, is the team's seventh different kicker since the beginning of the 2015 season, so there's nowhere near the stability that Gano has given the Panthers.

But it goes to show that even the best kickers aren't that far away from being in danger of losing their jobs.

And after Gano's misses were key in a pair of close Carolina losses, it will be interesting to see how Rivera might navigate through a close game on Sunday against the Bucs, especially with the Panthers coming to town having lost three straight.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.