CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — As Carolina kicker Eddy Pineiro prepared for a winning field-goal attempt with 3 seconds left, he turned to holder Johnny Hekker and said: “Listen, when I make this kick, I’m jumping on your back and you’re taking me all the way to the 50-yard line.”
Hekker responded: “Alright. Done deal.”
Three successful kicks later, Pineiro found himself getting a piggyback from the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Hekker out to the team’s logo at midfield, his hand raised in victory after beating the Houston Texans 15-13 with a 23-yarder as time expired.
“It was fun,” Pineiro said with a laugh. “I was just saying things to get my mind off what was actually happening.”
There was a lot happening at the time.
Pineiro, who was hoping to redeem himself after missing an extra point in the first half, initially lined up for a 38-yarder after Bryce Young moved the Panthers into field-goal range with a 15-play drive that took six minutes off the clock.
But Houston's Tavierre Thomas raced into the backfield well before the ball was snapped and collided with Hekker, who was still kneeling after Pineiro booted the ball through the uprights. The play was ruled dead and Pineiro had to kick it again, from 10 yards closer, after Thomas was flagged for unnecessary roughness and offsides.
Pineiro booted his second attempt through again, but once again the kick was nullified because Thomas was offsides. This time, officials penalized Thomas for unsportsmanlike conduct for intentionally delaying the game and the ball was moved 5 yards closer.
“My coach told me to sell out and not let it go through the uprights," Thomas said. “I didn’t try to hit the dude the first time. He was just right there and I feel over him. We were trying to get the kicker a little frazzled or whatever so he would miss the kick.”
It didn't work.
Pineiro lined up a third time, and again connected — this time from 23 yards — setting off a celebration as “Sweet Caroline” blared from the sound system at Bank of America Stadium.
“Those guys were like, 'Oh you’re gonna miss it!,'” Pineiro said. “They’re just trying to get in your head and I just stayed focused, followed my technique and just did my normal prayer that I usually do before I kick, and that’s it.”
Actually he had to pray three times, he said.
“Mentally, obviously after I missed earlier, I was like OK I need to redeem myself,” Pineiro said. “I thank God everyday that he said OK here’s your chance to redeem yourself and I was able to. I’m blessed. It was a team effort. It was a great snap, great hold. It was awesome.”
Hekker said he's seen that type of approach from a team before, noting that Seattle once attempted the same tactic with Richard Sherman racing in off the edge.
“I have seen it before when teams try to play with a kicker's mind,” Hekker said. “Hey, it's hard to hit one game-winner, much less three. Kudos to him. He's mentally tough and he is a guy that works super hard. He has the ability to put every kick behind him and focus on that next kick.”
It was Piniero who ended up getting the last word.
“ They didn’t want to lose that game, and they were trying their absolute best to get in my head,” Pineiro said. “Hopefully they have a safe flight back to Houston.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL
Steve Reed, The Associated Press