Ten weeks ago, Panthers kicker Eddie Piñeiro missed two game-winning opportunities against the Atlanta Falcons. After the game, he promised himself to never let his teammates down again.
With the score tied against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Piñeiro made good on that promise when his 42-yard field goal attempt shattered the Caesars Superdome uprights as time expired. The Panthers, led by long snapper JJ Jansen, pressured Piñeiro at midfield to celebrate a 10-7 victory.
“To be able to do this for my teammates, for our coaches and the whole organization, that’s how we wanted to bounce back and finish the season,” Piñeiro said after helping Carolina finish on a high note after losing to Tampa on last week. Bay that dashed the team’s playoff hopes.
Piñeiro missed two wins against the Falcons in October. He kicked a 48-yard extra point at the end of regulation, which was 15 yards longer than normal due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on DJ Moore. In overtime, Piñeiro missed a 33-yard field goal attempt. Atlanta won on a 41-yard field goal by Yanghou Ku.
“I told you guys (after Piñeiro’s mistakes in Atlanta) that we’re not bringing anybody in anymore,” Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks said. “We haven’t tried anyone else. We believe in Eddie, and Eddie stayed the course. He’s helped us win a lot of football matches and he won it for us today.”
Starting with the Falcons game, Piñeiro excelled. He finished the season with 19 straight field goals and the NFL’s best field goal percentage of 94.2%.
“He’s an insanely talented kicker,” player and owner Johnny Hecker said. “He’s a guy who took it easy on corrections and training and did everything he could to make it happen. He was a great asset to our team.”
It’s been a rough road to the NFL for Piñeiro, who has played for six teams over the past four years. Injuries made him specialist nomad but he might have found a long-term home in the Carolinas.
Piñeiro signed with the team in August after Zane Gonzalez suffered a season-ending groin injury. He is not under contract for next season, but should be an offseason priority for Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer. However, there is a possibility that Piñeiro will receive too lucrative a contract for the Panthers to release him in March.
Several players, including Pineiro, acknowledged that Sunday’s game could have been their last with the Panthers. As much as this group has consistently struggled to stick together, Carolina will will begin its national coaching search on Monday with no guarantee Wilkes, Pineiro or other key veterans will return.
When asked about his future after Sunday’s game, Wilkes said he’ll “be where his feet are.”
Pineiro’s legs earned Wilkes his sixth game as the Panthers’ interim coach. Former coach Matt Rhule never eclipsed five wins in a season.
“It meant a lot. If you go back and look at the year, (Piñeiro) was scrutinized so much against Atlanta for not making a field goal,” Wilkes said. “We won the last game at home in front of our fans. And we won the last game of the year on the road. (We have) a lot to build on moving forward.”
This story was originally published January 8, 2023 8:43 p.m.
Panthers kicker Eddie Piñeiro wins against the Saints.
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