When hulking Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell swatted Graham Gano's 30-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the first half, the Washington Redskins kicker could have sulked into the locker room with his confidence derailed. Instead, he used that jarring moment to help his team stay undefeated.
"After the block, I went up to [special teams coach Danny Smith] and I told him we were going to have a chance to win on a field goal," Gano said. "I had a feeling it was going to come down to that at the end."
The second-year veteran redeemed himself in the fourth quarter with a 23-yard boot to cut the Cardinals' lead to 14-13. But his real test came with just under two minutes to play, when a drive stalled deep in Arizona territory. As 76,330 anxious fans held their breath in dreaded anticipation, Gano trotted onto the field set on pulling his team out of a 21-19 hole.
Even with the blocked field goal try lingering somewhere in the back of his mind, Gano had reason to feel confident. His right foot clinched three Redskins victories last season, nailing overtime game-winners against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Green Bay.
"I was pretty pumped up; I've been there before," Gano said. "I'm just excited for those opportunities. The biggest thing is you try not to think about it too much. You just go back to what you've done in practice and let your instincts take over. That's what I try to do and hope that everything goes well and put the ball through the uprights."
And through the uprights it went, sending Gano into the middle of a mob of jubilant teammates near midfield.
In addition to securing a dramatic win, Gano's 34-yarder with 1:45 left boosted Washington sideline's confidence in a player who scores high in an attribute crucial to any kicker worth his salt: shaking off adversity. Not only did Gano need to put aside the blocked kick, he had to overcome the embarrassment of a missed 39-yard attempt in the season opener against the New York Giants.
That miss could have rattled Gano, especially in the wake of 10 consecutive successful field goals during the preseason. Sunday's 3-for-4 performance suggested the Week 1 blunder was in his rearview mirror.
"I have the utmost respect for Graham," Washington fullback Darrel Young said. "To have the season he did last year and to come back and miss one last week and then finish the game today, that says a lot about his character."
Gano deflected commentary on the strength of his character to that of the entire team, which heads to Dallas next week.
"I think it starts with good character on this team," Gano said. "We've got a lot of guys who like to fight and win. Coach Shanahan really stresses the only important thing is winning. Nothing else really matters."
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