CHARLOTTE -- When they called it a game-time decision, the Carolina Panthers meant it with quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
The not-much-longer 43-year-old quarterback (his birthday's Tuesday), was able to start after getting through pre-game warm-ups. At that point, they weren't sure if he was going to be able to with his sore right Achilles, which kept him out of practice except for Thursday.
"He did he have some soreness, I'm sure," coach John Fox said. "But in the NFL, there's a lot of guys that have soreness at this stage of the season. He was healthy enough to play."
The Panthers promoted just-arrived practice squad quarterback Drew Olson to the active roster Saturday just in case, though he was inactive. Rookie Matt Moore, the only other healthy one, came in for the final play to throw an interception on a desperate prayer.
Testaverde said he hoped taking it easy last week would enable him to play the rest of the year. He said he tried to push himself Thursday so he'd know where he stood, but then couldn't work Friday when the problem flared up.
"I'm good," Testaverde said. "The Achilles was good enough to get me through the game. Being smart this week, hopefully we'll just keep moving forward in a positive direction -- no setbacks like I had this week. We'll go from there."
• RETURNS ARRIVE: Rookie returner Ryne Robinson had his best day of the year on both sides of the ledger, averaging a respectable 25.7 yards on kickoff returns and 10.8 on punts, with a 33-yard return that enabled the Panthers to kick a go-ahead field goal just before halftime.
"Guys were behind me like they've been the whole season," Robinson said. "I think I was just seeing things more clearly this week and my creases were there. I watched a little more film than the weeks before, and I understood what they were trying to do.
"It's a blur right now until I get a chance to see it on film. I just did what I'm expected to do. I made a few guys miss here and there and my guys turned around and threw a few great blocks."
• SACK ATTACK: Sure, the Panthers now have nine sacks on the season, but if they're looking for a silver lining, they could point to the fact five have come the last two games.
Linebacker Na'il Diggs and defensive end Mike Rucker notched their firsts of the season Sunday. Backup defensive tackle Damione Lewis still leads the team with 2.5.
• CHANGES AT WR: With starting wideout Keary Colbert inactive because of a foot injury, the Panthers started Drew Carter and gave rookie Dwayne Jarrett his most extensive time of the year.
They combined for five catches for 56 yards, though there were opportunities for each to make more plays than they did.
When asked to evaluate Jarrett, Fox leaned back on the standard "until I see the film," defense.
• DON'T BLAME THE DRAW: Fox was quick to defend his decision to run a draw play on third-and-18 from his own 14-yard line with a minute and four seconds left in the game -- as opposed to trying to heave it downfield with the game tied.
They punted instead, and the Falcons drove for a game-winning touchdown.
"It's very commonplace in this league," Fox said of his conservative play-call. "I know some people here think it's only the Carolina Panthers. But backed up, if that's what you're talking about, that's a very common play in the National Football League, not just in Charlotte."
He got another chance to refer to the play that leads to a punt (which he referred to as "not a bad play," when asked about Atlanta's first touchdown, when they ran the same play against a blitz and found no one to tackle Warrick Dunn).
"Well, they ran a draw," Fox said, back arching into his answer. "Some of those plays that we don't like very much on third down. When they work, they're good plays, and it worked on that play."
• UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE DAY: This was tackle Jordan Gross, asked about the expectations of the offense on their third starting quarterback of the year.
"It definitely hasn't been a story-book season, as many changes as we've had at the QB position," Gross said.
Sure it has. It's just that the book was written by Stephen King.
• EXTRA POINTS: Rookie middle linebacker Jon Beason came through the tunnel during introductions carrying a No. 55 Dan Morgan jersey, symbolizing his mentor, who was placed on injured reserve last week. ...
Safety Deke Cooper left the game with a shoulder injury after a hard collision with Dunn, and didn't return. He was replaced in the lineup by undrafted rookie Quinton Teal, who was a helpless bystander to the game-winning touchdown. ...
The Panthers deactivated the following eight players: Quarterbacks David Carr and Drew Olson (emergency third), Colbert, offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Frank Omiyale, defensive ends Otis Grigsby and Charles Johnson and linebacker Donte Curry.