Joking aside, Carolina kickers are weapons

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The flight from Charlotte to Atlanta takes only 35 minutes, but that was plenty of time for Carolina Panthers place-kicker Graham Gano to Twitter bomb pictures of 11 teammates sleeping.

Many with their mouths open.

Punter Brad Nortman is known as B52 because you never know when he's going to drop a bomb that some call a "Nortmanism'' -- my interpretation, a strange but funny comment that is funnier to him than others -- into the social media world.

Example: "Guys you know what I just realized? Porky The Pigs name is Porky because he is a pig and you get pork from a pig!''

The offensive linemen that have lockers directly across from the kickers in the bowels of Bank of America Stadium have a theory about this.

"Guys that get on social media more than average are trying to make up for something,'' Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil told me. "So maybe they're not as cool as they think. So by throwing out so much stuff on Twitter, they think maybe it'll stick.''

No doubt, the Carolina kickers are a bit mischievous and like to have fun. If you missed it on Monday, Gano put his Florida State sweatshirt in quarterback Cam Newton's locker and tweeted that the former Auburn star was pulling for FSU in the BCS Championship.

It got retweeted on SportsCenter.

But when it's time to get serious, there may not be a better pair of kickers in the NFL than Gano and Nortman.

Both likely will play a key role in Sunday's NFC playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers as they did when these teams met during the regular season, a 10-9 victory by the Panthers on Nov. 10 at Candlestick Park.

Gano had the game-winning 53-yard field goal with 10:05 to play. It was one of six 50-plus yard field goals in six attempts this season. He also had two touchbacks on three kickoffs in a season where he's had touchbacks a league-leading 79.7 percent of the time.

Norman had team single-season records for gross punting average (47.6 yards per kick) and net average (41.6). Against the 49ers, he punted seven times for a 45.7 gross average and 37.9 net average. Two he pinned inside the 20 -- the 13 and 1 -- in the fourth quarter.

Norman's last home game against New Orleans in Week 16 may have been his best. He punted eight times for a 50.8 average. One was downed at the Saints' 2 and the other at the 3.

He was so good in December that he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month.

Both Gano and Nortman have been so good that coach Ron Rivera has called them weapons.

So while they may be characters off the field, they're clutch on it.

Carolina's special teams in general have been clutch, ranking among the league leaders at defending punts and kickoffs.

Don't forget return specialist Ted Ginn Jr., either. He averaged 21.7 yards on three punt returns against the 49errs, which is almost double his season average of 12.2. He was close to breaking one against his former team a couple of times.

“They’ve been exceptional,” Rivera said of his specialists. “Not allowing a team to return a ball is big, and defensively that helps you as well. It kind of gets the hidden yardage thing going for you, and that’s probably the biggest thing.

"If you go back and look at not just this month but all year, the consistency with the kickoffs, the extra points and field goals and then you turn around and the consistency with the punting, flipping the field, not allowing big returns is big.”

But as is the case with most kickers, they don't get a lot of attention unless they do something bad -- or crazy like posting pictures of themselves in a car on the way to a game.

The latter happened on the way to a recent home game. When Nortman pulled up to a stoplight, Gano pulled out his cell phone and took a picture of the two of them with deep snapper J.J. Jansen, who is just as mischievous as the kickers.

"Brad was going 50 mph,'' Gano joked.

Seriously, Nortman added with the serious side that does exists, "It's a good way to reach to our fans and expose our personalities. But we're serious when it comes to our jobs and working. We just like to have a little fun.''

Even if it's at the expense of their teammates, who vow to get even -- particularly those directly across the locker room.

"There's just three of them,'' said guard Geoff Hangartner, explaining why the kickers spend so much time on Twitter. "They don't have anybody else to share anything with.''