ATLANTA -- It was only one play, but it's hard to understate.
But make no mistake, the play that doomed the Carolina Panthers in their 45-28 loss at Atlanta on Sunday wasn't any of the five rushing touchdowns, or the other 60 the Falcons ran from scrimmage.
One pass was the trigger, and Falcons' rookie receiver Harry Douglas' 69-yard haul in the fourth quarter started the avalanche.
The Panthers had gotten the early 17-0 deficit reduced to 24-21, and they were playing spirited defense for a change. But then Douglas found himself in the right place at the right time, converting a third-and-11 in amazing fashion to end it.
"For us to climb back in, our offense did a great job of getting us back in the game," cornerback Richard Marshall said. "That one play just killed us. I wish I could have had it back, but I can't. I've just got to look at film to see what mistake I made, and change it next time."
Marshall's mistake was falling down in front of Douglas, after having what cornerback Ken Lucas described as "perfect coverage."
Lucas said Marshall had the play handled, but Matt Ryan's pass was underthrown, allowing Douglas to circle back under him. It didn't help that safety Charles Godfrey was a blur as Douglas went by him, spinning off a tackle and giving the rookie a free field. Safety Chris Harris gave chase, eventually pushing him out of bounds at the Panthers' 6-yard line.
"It was a back-breaker for us," Lucas said. "But the coverage was what it was supposed to be, where it intended to be."
That play allowed the Falcons to catch their breath when the Panthers were rallying, and moments later, they scored the clincher on Michael Turner's third of four touchdowns. But Douglas then followed with a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown which made it 38-21, effectively ending the drama.