ATLANTA — Safety Juston Burris had a chance to make a game-changing play in the first half, but didn't get it done. He wasn't going to let a second opportunity slip away.
Midway through the second quarter of the Panthers' eventual 23-16 victory over the Falcons, defensive end Brian Burns strip-sacked quarterback Matt Ryan. The ball squirted far behind the line of scrimmage, and Burris looked like he had a chance to scoop and score.
The only problem was, he didn't scoop.
"I just didn't get my hands underneath it," Burris said. "That's on me. I should've had that."
The Falcons recovered the fumble all the way back at their own 26, and to make matters worse, Burns suffered a concussion while making a tackle on the next play.
"It did bother me," Burris said. "I just had to let it go."
He got that opportunity in the fourth quarter with the Panthers clinging to a 20-13 lead. After a lengthy possession, Atlanta had a chance to tie the game with a third-and-4 from Carolina's 5-yard line.
On the play, Burris realized Ryan would probably target him since he was lined up against wideout Russell Gage.
"It was a safety on a slot receiver. They thought they had a mismatch," Burris said. "But I couldn't panic, and I was just trying to make a play. The coaches made that call because they have faith in me to cover the slot receiver. So I just wanted to prove them right."
That he did.
Burris kept solid positioning throughout Gage's route. When the ball came out, Burris stepped in front of the receiver, made the catch, and got two feet down before falling out of the back of the end zone.
"Just go up and get the ball," Burris thought as the ball was in the air. "Be a playmaker. Be a thief."
It was exactly what the Panthers needed to halt a potential comeback.
"They had turned the tide of the game in terms of, we were wearing down, they were moving the ball," head coach Matt Rhule said. "That was a huge, huge, huge play for us."
The pick was also a good way for Burris to make up for what he saw as his own critical error earlier in the game.
"I think probably every person on that defense came up to me and said, 'You're gonna make a play,'" Burris said. "That just gave me confidence to go out there and continue playing."
Burris kept the football, as he did with his previous four careers interceptions. It's going on his mantle.
But the pick will be memorable for his teammates because of when and how it happened.
"He even told us in the locker room it was his fault, he's going to make a play, he's going to get a pick," linebacker Shaq Thompson said. "And you know what? He stepped up big for us, and he was a man of his word.
"We trusted him, and he got us a stop in the red zone. That was a huge play, game-changing play."
View photos from the Carolina-Atlanta game in Week 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.