Quite a bit has changed since Carolina Panthers kicker Eddy Piñeiro missed a pair of potential game-winning kicks against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8.
Piñeiro has made 11 consecutive field goals since the letdown in Atlanta, including a perfect 3-for-3 outing in the Panthers’ 30-26 win against the Seattle Seahawks last week. On Wednesday, Piñeiro was honored for that performance, as he was named the Week 14 NFC Special Teams Player of the Week by the league.
“It was amazing,” Piñeiro said about the award. “Thanks to my teammates for putting me in position to make those kicks — good snaps, good holds. It’s been a blessing.”
Piñeiro was signed by the Panthers in August as an injury replacement for Zane Gonzalez, who went 20 of 22 on field-goal attempts last season. Piñeiro, who worked with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor in Chicago in 2019, converted his first eight field-goal attempts in Carolina, before missing a 41-yarder in the 37-15 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5.
Piñeiro is well-traveled, as the Panthers are his sixth team at just 27 years old. But his ability to bounce back from bad moments has helped him find his place in Carolina this season, and perhaps beyond.
“Just especially here in the locker room, everybody is like a family here,” Piñeiro said. “It’s just different here. Everybody loves each other, everybody has each others’ back. It’s been awesome.”
Following his mishaps against the Falcons, fans on social media called for Piñeiro’s job. However, interim head coach Steve Wilks, who had gone 1-2 through his first three games, decided to stick with Piñeiro.
Since then, Piñeiro has rewarded Wilks’ loyalty, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the interim head coach.
“As I mentioned during that time, we had no thought about bringing in (another) kicker,” Wilks said. “Total confidence in Eddy. We wanted to make sure that we gave him the support that he needed. We put our arms around him. As you can see, from that point on, he’s been pretty much consistent in the things that we’ve asked him to do. So, I’m proud of the way he’s bounced back, and like with Eddy and everybody else in that locker room, that’s what we’re looking for: consistency.”
Through 13 games, Piñeiro has made 92.6% of his field-goal attempts. That percentage ranks third in the league among kickers with 15 or more field-goal attempts.
If Piñeiro — who is set to become a free agent in March — continues to his steady performance through the end of the season, he could cash in big time when he hits the open market.
“I’m just staying in the moment,” Piñeiro said. “One kick at a time, and whatever happens, it happens.”
Injury update on DJ Moore
Panthers wideout DJ Moore (ankle) practiced in a full capacity on Wednesday. The playmaker was injured in the fourth quarter of the 30-24 win against the Seahawks this past weekend when a lineman rolled under him.
Moore underwent an MRI on Monday, and according to Wilks, his results were good news for the Panthers.
“We’re going to see exactly how he feels (Thursday), from a standpoint of any of any (potential) relapse,” Wilks said. “But it was great to see him out there, running around and executing.”
Moore has had an up-and-down fifth season.
After averaging 1,078 receiving yards and 3.5 receiving touchdowns over the past four years, Moore has had a lackluster stat line throughout most of the campaign.
He has caught 46 passes for 605 yards and four touchdowns through 13 games. His 50.5% catch rate is easily a career-worst mark, too.
However, he still remains the Panthers’ top weapon in the passing game, and Carolina can use all the help it can get as the team attempts a late-season playoff push.
Unlike Moore, linebacker Brandon Smith (ankle), running back D’Onta Foreman (rest) and offensive tackle Taylor Moton (rest) were absent from the first practice of the week.
Smith was injured during the matchup against the Seahawks. On Wednesday, Smith was seen in the locker room walking on crutches with a walking boot.
Linebackers Cory Littleton (ankle) and Joey Iyiegbuniwe (shoulder), safety Xavier Woods (ankle) and wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. (shoulder) were all listed as limited participants in the workout due to various ailments. Littleton and Woods both missed the win against the Seahawks last weekend.
▪ The Panthers will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium. Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who is in the league’s concussion protocol, practiced in a limited capacity to start the week. Starting running back Najee Harris (hip), linebacker Myles Jack (groin), tight end Pat Freiermuth (foot) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (toe) — a UNC Charlotte alum — were all held out of Wednesday’s workout.
▪ The Panthers waived former fifth-round pick, defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon, on Tuesday. Carolina has an open roster spot on its 53-man roster following Nixon’s departure. That opening could be filled by cornerback Tae Hayes, who was waived on Saturday. The Panthers re-signed Hayes to the practice squad on Monday, so Nixon and Hayes could potentially flip flop spots.
▪ Former Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield was awarded the Week 14 NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor for his game-winning performance in his debut with the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday. Mayfield threw the game-winning touchdown pass to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders in a 17-16 win. Mayfield had been with the Rams just two days before leading the comeback win.
▪ According to NFL Next Gen Stats from Zebra Technologies, Foreman faced a stacked box at a league-high rate of 66.67% against the Seahawks. Comparatively, backup Chuba Hubbard, who carried 14 times for 74 yards and a touchdown against Seattle, faced a stack box on 14.29% of his carries.
▪ Also, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, quarterback Sam Darnold held onto the ball for an average of 3.68 seconds before throwing it against the Seahawks. That average was easily the longest in the league, which is a concern for Darnold and a credit to the pass protection of the Panthers’ offensive line. Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson had the next highest average of 3.14 seconds.
Darnold also had the lowest average of intended air yards (4.8) and completed air yards (1.2) in Week 14.
▪ On a positive note, cornerback C.J. Henderson had the fastest speed of any ball-carrier in Week 14. After intercepting a pass from Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, Henderson was clocked at 20.97 mph on a 20-yard return.