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3 things we learned about the Panthers

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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 Panthers:

1. The Panthers are pretty much a one-horse operation when it comes to the rushing attack from their running backs. It’s almost exclusively Jonathan Stewart’s show, though Stewart has proven up to the task for most of the season. He produced 82 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries Monday. The benefit Carolina possesses is that Cam Newton is a big weapon running the ball, an element many teams don’t have from their quarterback.

2. The Panthers need center Ryan Kalil in the lineup, so his absence because of an ankle injury resulted in some painful sequences against Indianapolis. He was on the inactive list for the game, a development that the Panthers were holding out hope wouldn’t happen. Kalil the anchor in the middle and a major presence in the huddle.

3. Fullback Mike Tolbert provides big-play capability. The chubby-looking player has a knack for coming up with clutch plays even though he is not likely impress many onlookers with his physical stature. He took a short pass from Newton in the third quarter against Indianapolis and turned it into a 40-yard gain for his largest pickup as a member of the Panthers.

Etc.

–S Roman Harper made a key defensive play with a deflect pass that resulted in an overtime interception by LB Luke Kuechly. Harper also made 12 tackles against Indianapolis, which shouldn’t be overlooked. He continues to make key contributions in his 10th NFL season.

–TE Scott Simonson was active for the first time as a Panther. He is considered a threat in the passing attack, but he has been working to improve his blocking and physical play. He was not targeted with a pass Monday.

–OG Andrew Norwell left in the first half with a game-ending leg injury. That created some shifting of personnel along the offensive line.


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