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The Carolina Panthers are 7-0, but they didn't make it easy for themselves last night

Panthers let 17-point lead slip before grinding out win in overtime.

Image: Bob Leverone

GRAHAM GANO KICKED a game-winning 52-yard field goal in overtime to keep the Carolina Panthers unbeaten.

The Panthers went 7-0 with a dramatic 29-26 victory over the Indianapolis Colts overnight.

Gano atoned for a missed extra-point attempt earlier in the contest — a point that proved crucial as the Colts forced overtime with a fierce fourth-quarter rally.

The teams traded field goals to open the extra session before Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted a pass from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck — collecting a ball deflected by safety Roman Harper.

That gave the Panthers the ball at the Colts’ 39 yard line, setting the stage for Gano’s game-winner.

The Panthers joined the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals at 7-0 — the first time four NFL teams have opened a season with seven straight wins.

“We did what we’ve done all year, we made plays when we needed to and we were able to scrounge out a win,” Kuechly said.

The Colts had erased a 17-point deficit in the last 7:04 of regulation.

Two touchdown passes by Luck in the fourth quarter — an 18-yard pass to Andre Johnson and an eight-yarder to Coby Fleener — made it 23-20 with 2:02 remaining in regulation.

Luck then threw three straight incomplete passes before a stuttering Colts drive moved the ball to the Panthers’ six yard line with seven seconds to play, and Adam Vinatieri’s 24-yard field goal forced overtime.

Vinatieri’s 50-yard field goal on the opening possession of overtime put the Colts ahead for the first time, but the Panthers extended the game with Gano’s 42-yard field goal.

Then came Luck’s third interception of the contest as his pass intended for Fleener was deflected by veteran Harper, shooting straight up and tumbling down into the arms of Kuechly.

“I tried to hit Coby, I waited too long to hit him though, should have moved on,” said a dejected Luck, whose Colts lost their third in a row to fall to 3-5 — still level with Houston atop the AFC South. “A guy made a nice play, tipped it up, they got the ball and the game.”

Luck completed 23 of 47 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns, but through the first three quarters — played largely in driving rain — he had only 40 passing yards and was intercepted twice.

“I’m disappointed in myself,” Luck said.

Newton connected on 16 of 35 passing attempts for 248 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“It wasn’t pretty, we know that,” Newton said. “We know we have to be better, but at the end of the day we’re one of the lucky few to be able to say we’re 7-0.”

- © AFP, 2015

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