- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Graham Gano is hoping for another chance against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

“I hope this one comes down to a game-winning kick,” the Carolina Panthers’ 27-year-old kicker said. “Those are the kicks you dream of, so I hope I get another shot.”

Gano missed a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal try last month against the Falcons with 1:27 remaining and had a 63-yarder blocked as time expired. The Panthers lost 19-17.

Had Carolina won that game, it would have already clinched the NFC South division.

Instead, the Panthers need a win or tie at Atlanta to become the first team to repeat as NFC South champions.

The Panthers (6-8-1) enter the game in first place, but the Falcons (6-9) can pass them with a win. The winner will host a playoff game.

Gano signed a four-year, $12.4 million extension last offseason after he turned in a career year converting 24 of 27 field goals, including all six from 50 yards and beyond. He’s made 27 of 33 field goal attempts this season, but has a miss in each of his past two games.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said his confidence in Gano hasn’t wavered. Rivera said misses are going to happen.

“He’ll come to me and say something about it and I will just say, ‘I’ve got all of the confidence in the world in you,’” Rivera said. “The truth of the matter is he’s going to get an opportunity to win a big one for us, whether it’s this week of some other time. The key for him is being focused and ready. This game is about as big as it gets, so who knows?”

Gano’s 46-yard miss on Nov. 16 against the Falcons was a tough blow for the Panthers - and the fans in their home stadium - after Cam Newton had driven the team into field goal range with a series of pass completions.

Figuring they could count on Gano, the Panthers went with three conservative plays calls after reaching the Atlanta 32. The three runs netted just 4 yards.

The strategy failed when the right-footed Gano hooked the 46-yarder wide left.

Gano said it took him “about two seconds” to put the kick behind him. He got another shot as time expired and felt like he hit the 63-yarder well, but it was low coming out and blocked.

Like a cornerback who gets beat on a deep pass, Gano said kickers have to have short memories.

“If you don’t then you won’t last very long in this league,” Gano said. “I’ve faced adversity before and you have to handle it and move on.”

NOTES: Cam Newton gave his teammates Beats headphones, while linebacker Luke Kuechly got them Bose headphones. “They have to choose - Bose or Beats,” Kuechly said. … Linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) was the only player limited in practice on Wednesday.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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