--It would have been hard to find a more fitting way for the Carolina Panthers to win their first division championship since 1996 than to have John Kasay win it on a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
That's exactly what happened Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium as Kasay hit from 49 yards out with four seconds left in the game to lift the Panthers to a 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals and secure his team a spot in the playoffs.
The winning kick came just two weeks after Kasay missed three field goals and an extra point in a crucial 9-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that may have cost the Panthers a first-round bye.
After the game, Kasay thanked his teammates for their support over the last couple of weeks.
"The guys have been great to me," Kasay said. "It shows a lot about their character because they had every opportunity in the world to take as many shots at me as they wanted to. I think it shows they've got a lot of class and a lot of character."
Panthers head coach John Fox said his confidence in Kasay never wavered. "You know, John has done a lot of real good things for us this season," Fox said. "He had a bad day (against Philadelphia). We all have them, but today, that was a very big kick for us and our organization."
Said Kasay: "There are good times and there are bad times. You try to enjoy both and learn from both, and you look forward to the next opportunity."
Kasay also hit from 21 yards out early in the game Sunday and converted two extra points, including one that was bobbled by holder Todd Sauerbrun.
Kasay is the lone member of the '95 expansion Panthers and has seen his share of ups and downs. He said he couldn't have imagined that it would have taken the Panthers seven years to return to the playoffs after reaching the NFC Championship Game in the 1996-97 season.
"To watch how fast we rose, and then to have all the battles we've had in the years since then to try to get back to this spot, I know this is a great day for (team owner) Mr. (Jerry) Richardson," Kasay said. "To be able to be a part of this, to build this organization, to bring the people in that he has brought in, to win a championship for the Carolinas, this is a special day."
--Panthers team president Mark Richardson said his father, owner Jerry Richardson, was quite pleased after the team clinched the NFC South title.
"I think I saw a different level of smile from him than I've seen in a long time," Mark Richardson said. "And I think it's probably a big relief for all of us. We've been on the brink here for a couple of weeks and hadn't been able to get over the hump, so it's a nice relief."
"Now we get to go back home and be with our own fans -- and to know that as a division champ we'll be playing at home in January, so next week is not our last game at home, that's special."
Jerry Richardson hugged several players after the game in the locker room. --The Panthers continue to have problems defending mobile quarterbacks. After allowing Atlanta's Michael Vick to run for 141 yards last week, Arizona's Josh McCown scrambled for 47 yards on seven carries on Sunday, including a 16-yard touchdown run.
--Because of all of the injuries Sunday, wide receiver Kevin Dyson suited up for the first time this season but he did not play. Dyson spent most of the season on the PUP list before being elevated to the 53-man roster.
--Carolina's 2000 first-round draft pick Rashard Anderson is scheduled to meet with NFL officials and doctors in New York in hopes of being reinstated to the league. If Anderson is given a positive recommendation, then Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has the option to reinstate Anderson.
Anderson, a cornerback, has not played the last two seasons for the Panthers and remains on their reserve-suspended list after multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy. Sources close to the situation have said marijuana, not hard drugs have been Anderson's problem.
A decision on whether Anderson will be reinstated may take a few weeks. If he's reinstated, it appears highly unlikely Anderson will ever play for the Panthers again, although team officials could not comment on his future with the team. Anderson has not once, but twice let down the team by being suspended prior to the season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Number of games the Panthers have won by three points or less, tying an NFL record.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels good. When you wait and you go through so much that is what makes it feel so good. You go through the trials and tribulations and come out on the other side, that is what makes it feel so good." -- SS Mike Minter on finally making the playoffs after seven seasons with the Panthers.