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3 things we learned about the Colts

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano knew to focus on what might be coming up rather than dwell on the past.

He was clutch in overtime, kicking a 42-yard field goal and then a game-winning 52-yarder as the Panthers stayed unbeaten by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 29-26 on a rainy Monday night at Bank of America Stadium.

“I feel blessed to have that opportunity at the end,” Gano said.

Gano atoned for a missed extra point, and the Panthers (7-0) continued their best start in franchise history after blowing a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead.

“We have had games when you have weather like this and sometimes those things happen,” he said of the missed kick. “We prepare for that the best we can.”

After the teams traded overtime field goals, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly’s interception of quarterback Andrew Luck off a deflection from safety Roman Harper gave the Panthers the ball at the Colts’ 39-yard line in the sudden-death portion of the extra session.

“The ball went right to me. All I had to do is catch it,” Kuechly said. “Roman Harper was the key guy on that. He got his hand in there.”

Carolina has won a franchise-record 11 consecutive regular-season games dating to last season. The Panthers matched last year’s regular-season victory total, when they went 7-8-1, which was good enough to win the NFC South.

“We’re one of the lucky few to be able to say we’re 7-0,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said.

The Colts (3-5) wiped out a 17-point deficit in the last 7:04 of regulation as Luck suddenly got untracked, throwing two touchdown passes.

He was miffed that it wasn’t enough because it took so long to fall into a rhythm.

“We’ve got to fix those things in practice and fix them in games,” said Luck, who finished with three interceptions. “We did some decent things to give ourselves a chance but messed up at the end by throwing an interception.”

What we learned about the Colts:

1. The Colts need a healthy Andrew Luck. Amid reports that the quarterback was dealing with rib injuries, he encountered an up-and-down game in the loss at Carolina. So much is placed on Luck that he needs to produce at a high level, and when that doesn’t happen, there is reason for concern within the organization. He showed the ability to rise the occasion with a splendid fourth quarter against the Panthers before his third interception of the night provided decisive in overtime.

2. Indianapolis can hang in games even when the offense falters. It is not an ideal situation to count on, but the defense was almost impeccable in the first half against Carolina. The Panthers gained 128 yards (with a 48-yard pass play that didn’t factor into any scoring accounting for a chunk of the yards allowed). Indianapolis picked up only four first downs in the first half yet remained within range while trailing 10-6 at the break.

3. The Colts have something left in the tank even with plenty of questions about their fatigue. That should be clear based on their fourth-quarter performance against the Panthers. However, the mental stress could start showing on the Colts, who lost their third game in a row. To make matters more daunting, they will face an undefeated team for the second week in a row and the third time in a four-week stretch when they take on the Denver Broncos in their next game. On the plus side, even with a 3-5 record, Indianapolis is tied for first place in the woeful AFC South.

Etc.

–TE Coby Fleener made a team-high seven catches against Carolina. Fleener and WR Griff Whalen, who was second with five catches, are former Stanford teammates of QB Andrew Luck.

–CB Vontae Davis sustained an ankle injury Monday at Carolina. However, he later returned to the field despite the pain and defended a couple of passes.

–K Adam Vinatieri was 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts against the Panthers, including a 50-yarder in overtime, and that must have brought back bitter flashbacks for Carolina fans. It was Vinatieri’s field goal for the Patriots that upended the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Vinatieri, 42, is the Colts’ oldest player.


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