Cutting Joey Slye didn’t fix the Panthers’ kicking problems, but it did help the Texans

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It didn’t take long for former Panthers kicker Joey Slye to land on his feet. The Texans picked him up a week after the Panthers cut him, and on Thursday night, three weeks after his release, he’ll face his former team.

The Panthers felt like they did what they had to do in releasing Slye. He was struggling in his final few weeks with the Panthers — in practice and in the preseason. He was 5 of 8 on field-goal attempts, and 0 for 1 on extra points.

His final week with the Panthers pushed him too far out of favor with coach Matt Rhule when he missed three field goals in practice, and then a 49-yard attempt against the Steelers in the preseason finale wide left.

Rhule said he felt Slye needed a change of scenery.

“Hardest part of this job is watching people come and go,” Rhule said Tuesday. “There’s not a classier person in going through that process with. Sometimes you just need to go do something else and seeing the success he’s had early — obviously, I don’t want him to hit the game-winner on us — but I can’t say enough about who he is.”

But now that the Panthers are on their third kicker since the final week of the preseason, it’s fair to question whether they should have held onto Slye just a little longer — or at least until they found a better option.

Trading with the Giants for Ryan Santoso was an experiment that didn’t work out. He struggled in practice, too, and missed an extra-point attempt in Week 1 against the Jets. And now the Panthers have Zane Gonzalez for at least the next two weeks, and he wasn’t impressive in his first game against the Saints, either.

Rhule said the Panthers’ kicking game, which includes the blocking, was ‘woeful’ last Sunday.

He was right.

Gonzalez made two field goals but missed an extra-point attempt against the Saints. That cannot happen. And in the third quarter, the Saints blocked what would have been a 55-yard field goal by Gonzalez.

Blame that on the blocking for allowing the Saints defenders to get into the backfield.

Additionally, none of Gonzalez’s six kickoffs went through the back of the end zone, which led to 156 kick return yards by Saints returner Deonte Harris, who averaged 31.2 yards per try.

Meanwhile, Slye is doing his thing in Houston.

Through two games with the Texans, he has made 3 of 4 field-goal attempts and is 7 of 7 on extra points. Slye’s lone field goal miss with the Texans came in a loss to the Browns last Sunday — a 41-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining. The kick would have made it a one-possession game.

Slye’s downfall in those final two weeks of the preseason was tough to watch. It’s like when the little guy, who hasn’t made a shot all season, airballs the 3. You’re hopeful, but you know it’s not going in.

There was no doubt, that after the 2021 season, the Panthers were going to have to find a better option. Slye hadn’t been more than serviceable in his two years with the Panthers, making 79.4% of his field-goal attempts.

But he was OK, capable of winning games. And cutting him right before the season when there was so much uncertainty about the kickers not on rosters was a risky move. Perhaps he could have gotten through his slump.

The Observer made a request with the Texans to interview Slye this week, but the team declined to make him available, citing a short week with the Thursday night game.

When asked about facing Slye on Tuesday, Rhule said only good things.

“I can’t say enough about who he is,” the coach said. “I wish him nothing but success moving forward. He’s a really good kicker and an even better person.”

It will be weeks before we know whether parting ways with Slye was the right decision. The Panthers were in a tough situation, and perhaps Slye did need a chance of scenery. And maybe Gonzalez will get on a roll.

Thursday night, on national television, the decision will be on full display.

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