CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For a guy whose existence has been mostly wide right in the last three weeks, Carolina Panthers kicker John Kasay was characteristically straight down the middle Sunday evening, discussing his four errant placement attempts in a 25-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles with equal parts realism and resignation.
A man of well-documented faith, one who has overcome potentially career-threatening knee injuries in consecutive seasons, Kasay allowed that he labors at a profession where one has to accept the bad and the good.
There was little doubt that Sunday's performance -- in which Kasay missed three of four field goal attempts and had an errant extra point try -- was mostly the former of the two.
"This is one of those days you don't exactly dream about, and you don't want to have happen, but it does sometimes," said Kasay, who ranks among the top 10 in all-time field goal accuracy. "You know, the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and I'll have another opportunity to work on this. But it's a huge difference between being 9-3 and 8-4, and it's my fault we're not (the latter), and that's a little tough to handle."
A 13-year veteran, and one of only six veterans remaining from the Panthers' inaugural expansion roster of 1995, Kasay was hardly the only Carolina player to suffer through a difficult outing. But given his reliability in the past, and the fact he started this season so strong and has connected on three game-winning field goals in overtime in 2003, Kasay was a prime candidate for goat horns following the Panthers' second straight defeat.
To his credit, and unlike many in his profession, Kasay didn't attempt to dodge blame or to hide in the trainer's room until the media mob had dissipated. Still, there was no hiding his disappointment, and no way to soften his plight.
Kasay began the season making his first 21 field goal attempts and, dating to the end of the 2002 season, connected on 22 straight. Over the last three weeks, however, he has hit on just five of 11 field goal tries.
In the two previous contests, Kasay's average miss was from 51 yards, including a pair of botched 50-plus yards attempts. But his three misses Sunday were from an average of 39.7 yards, with two under 40 yards, and there were no excuses forthcoming and none acceptable for the humbled Kasay.
Several teammates pointed out, correctly, that Kasay wasn't the only player who failed to come up big in critical situations.
"Was it odd watching us miss tackles out there like we did?" said mammoth defensive tackle Brentson Buckner. "Was it odd watching us get penalties? You can't blame this all on John. We are all going to have an off day. That's part of the game. It was just odd that we didn't play well enough to win this game."
Actually, the Carolina defense arguably played well enough to notch a victory, limiting the Philadelphia offense to just 17 first downs, 283 yards and two touchdowns. Unlike his counterpart, Eagles kicker David Akers converted all four of his field goal attempts after the Panthers defense thwarted promising drives.
But the Panthers offense, principally built around the power running game which features tailback Stephen Davis, could not consistently cash in on its numerous scoring opportunities.
Of its 60 snaps, the Carolina offense originated 37 plays on the Philadelphia side of the 50-yard line and 13 of those were in the "red zone." On the opening play of the game, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had a pass tipped and intercepted by Panthers end Mike Rucker, giving Carolina the ball at the Philadelphia 36. The drive produced a first down at the Eagles' seven-yard line but then died at the two, with some inexplicable play calls, and Kasay's lone converted field goal of 20 yards gave Carolina its only lead of the entire afternoon.
"Frustrating, there's no other word for it, just frustrating," said Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme of the various "red zone" pratfalls. "You don't win in the NFL not putting the ball in the end zone. You can't count on field goals all the time."
For once, the Panthers couldn't really count on field goals at all on Sunday, and Kasay's unusual performance just further exacerbated a bad situation.
Carolina reached the Philadelphia two-, eight-, 14-, 20-, 23-, 24- and 31-yard lines at various junctures. But they squandered too many chances and, the ones that they didn't waste, were taken away from them by the Eagles defense. Beyond the Kasay misses, the most hurtful sequence for the Panthers came when Davis was stoned by Philadelphia end Brandon Whiting on a fourth-and-one play at the Eagles' eight-yard line.
Davis bulled his way to 115 yards on 23 carries, but the Panthers converted on just four of 12 third downs, and Delhomme never seemed to get in rhythm.
Losing for a second straight time, and for the third time in five weeks, doesn't seriously jeopardize the Panthers' division title chances since they still own a two-game advantage. But in the past month, Carolina's vulnerabilities have been exposed, really on both sides of the ball. No one expected, though, their place kicker to be one of the problems.
Certainly not Kasay, who has delivered in the past, and likely will again. But the misses on Sunday were something that appeared certain to stick with him at least a while longer.
"Those (field goals) could have been the difference in the game," Kasay said. "I let the guys down, pure and simple, and that's the disappointment."