EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In each of the last two Giants-Carolina Panthers games, Graham Gano kicked the game-winning field goal in the final seconds. The teams meet Sunday in MetLife Stadium and Gano would savor the opportunity to do it again – for the other side.
This time, the Giants would be the beneficiaries of Gano's late-game heroics. That would be a far more enjoyable circumstance than the previous two games when Gano was a Panther and they were the victims.
"I remember all of those game-winners," said Gano, who has eight such kicks in his career. "I mean, those are the fun ones. That's what you dream of. It's a funny feeling now though, being on the team that I've kicked them against. But I usually don't bring them up. But of course, you remember."
For anyone who saw them, it's impossible to forget.
On Dec. 20, 2015, the Giants rallied from a 35-7 third-quarter deficit to tie the score with 1:46 remaining on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Odell Beckham, Jr. But Cam Newton completed four passes on a 49-yard drive that set up Gano's deciding 43-yard field goal as time expired, a kick that improved the Panthers to 14-0.
Three years ago – Oct. 7, 2018, to be exact – the Giants again rallied from a large late deficit, 27-16 in the fourth quarter, to take a 31-30 lead on Manning's pass to Saquon Barkley with just 1:08 left. But two Newton passes for 29 yards gave Gano an opportunity to kick a 63-yarder field goal – the longest ever against the Giants – with one second remaining.
"I knew it was in my range," Gano said. "There was a crosswind going from left to right, so I knew I had to hit a good ball to adjust for the wind, especially from that distance. Everything has to go perfect from the snap to the hold, to the kick, to the blocking, and to the timing on it. Everything has to be right. I just remember going out and looking at my holder (Michael Palardy) and saying, 'Alright, let's do this.' That was kind of it.
"Then, I think the most terrifying thing about it all was right after that there was still one second on the clock, and I had to kick to Odell, so that was probably the most terrifying thing of the whole day. But yeah, those are definitely ones that stick with you."
For the record, Beckham returned the ball 26 yards before lateralling to Eli Penny, who lost three yards; Penny then tossed a lateral to Sterling Shepard, who gained 27 yards before fumbling the ball out of bounds.
Gano kicked in eight more games that season before suffering a leg injury that sidelined him for the rest of 2018 and all of 2019. He said the injury wasn't properly diagnosed until he visited the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Gano signed with the Giants on Aug. 19, 2020, and this will be his first game against the Panthers since departing Charlotte. He insists that does not make the game more significant to him.
"I've played against former teams before, so it's always, I guess, fun in a way to be able to see guys that you were used to seeing every day," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just another game. I love playing for the Giants. I love being here. I think it was different when I was in Carolina and I played for Washington. That was like the first time I had played a former team. But now, it's a ball and you get there and play. You talked about the injury, but I look at it like I'm so thankful for that time there. I grew a lot as a player and as a man. I raised my family there. My wife and I had a bunch of kids down there, so it's a lot of fun. I have a lot to be thankful for with that organization, but I'm super thankful to be here. I love this place, and I just love being here every day."
In his first season with the Giants in 2020, Gano had one of the finest seasons of his 12-year career and by a Giants kicker. He made 31 of 32 attempts, a .9687 percentage that is the second highest in Giants history. In 2018, Aldrick Rosas made 32 of 33 attempts, a success rate of .9696. Gano has tied the franchise record of nine field goals in 50+ yards in only two years.
This year, he has made 12 of 14 field-goal attempts, missing on a 35-yard try in New Orleans that ended his Giants-record streak of 37 consecutive successes and a 54-yard attempt in Dallas.
"It's frustrating," Gano said. "I still feel like it's a good year up to this point, but of course, the short one in New Orleans just kind of drives you nuts because those are ones you should make. Then, the 54-yarder in Dallas, I hit it really well, so some kicks you just strike well, and they don't go in. So, you just have to move on and try to focus on the next kick. That's kind of how I look at things. Of course, nobody wants to miss any field goals, but that's usually not the reality, so I'm just going to stay confident, stay positive and just move on."
Maybe all the way to getting the chance to kick a game-winner for the Giants against the Panthers.
"I'd welcome that 100 percent," Gano said. "That would definitely be a dream come true, but at the end of the day, I just want to get a win for the team and just keep moving on."
View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers.
*Daniel Jones grew up in Charlotte and said it will be "cool" to face a Panthers team he used to root for. "I certainly still have a lot of friends who are Panthers fans, so I think that's cool to be able to play them," he said. Who will those friends be pulling for? "I hope they're rooting for me," he said. "But I've probably got some who are still Panthers fans."
*Cornerback James Bradberry played his first four NFL seasons for the Panthers before signing with the Giants as a free agent on March 26, 2020. Bradberry was asked if it bothered him the Panthers valued him less than the Giants did.
"No, not really, because it's a business at the end of the day and I understood what was going on toward the end of my career there," he said. "(Former Panthers coach and current Washington coach Ron) Rivera got fired, they had a new coaching staff coming in. Honestly, they had new personnel upstairs as well with G.M.'s, new contract guys coming in. I kind of got a feel for it, I knew my time there wasn't going to be long."
But Bradberry conceded this is more than just another game for him.
"Of course, it's special because that's where I started," he said. "I know some guys still on that defense and some guys on that offense, so I think it's going to be special to see some of my old teammates. As far as me having animosity or anything towards them, they weren't there when I was there, so I can't really blame them for not keeping me."
*The Giants trail in the regular-season series with the Panthers, 6-4. Carolina won the only postseason game between the teams, in 2005. The Panthers have won three consecutive games in the series in 2013, 2015 and 2018. The Giants' most important victory in the series was a 34-28 overtime triumph in Giants Stadium on Dec. 21, 2008, when the Giants clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. In that game, the Giants rushed for 301 yards, the fifth-highest total in franchise history.
View photos of the custom Giants helmet designed by Marvel ahead of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.