ATLANTA – By the very definition of the position's name, safeties aren't supposed to let anything get behind them.
Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura will have a difficult time putting this one behind him.
"I basically cost us the football game," Nakamura said after Roddy White's 59-yard reception set up the Atlanta Falcons for the winning field goal in a 30-28 victory. "He got behind me. That's my fault. That's nobody else's fault, has nothing to do with anybody else."
With 59 seconds left, the Falcons faced a daunting task, down 28-27 and pinned back at their 1-yard line with no timeouts left. White, who already had seven catches for 110 yards and a touchdown, sprinted down the left sideline, got a step on cornerback Josh Norman and then on Nakamura before hauling in Matt Ryan's bomb at the Panthers' 40-yard line.
Two short completions later, Matt Bryant booted a 40-yard field goal with five seconds left to send the Georgia Dome into a frenzy and the Panthers into a tailspin.
"I should have intercepted that ball," Nakamura said. "It's very upsetting."
Nakamura tried to take sole responsibility for the devastating loss, but his teammates wouldn't let him.
"I would expect him to feel bad because he cares about what he's doing, but it's not his fault we lost. It's no one player's fault," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Haruki has been a great addition for us. He's a leader, a great player, and somebody I enjoy in the locker room.
"He started the game out with a great play, an interception in the red zone when they probably were going to score points, one way or the other."
Indeed, a dreary day in Atlanta started bright for Nakamura and the defense. The Panthers were the only NFL team to give up touchdowns on the opening drive in each of their first three games, but facing the only team to score touchdowns on all three of its opening drives, the defense opened with a three-and-out that included a sack and batted pass.
The Panthers offense responded with an opening touchdown drive of its own, then Nakamura keyed a determined defensive stand. The Falcons snapped the ball seven times after earning a first-and-goal at the 4 but didn't score thanks to Nakamura's first interception as a Panther.
It was a big moment for Nakamura, who backed up future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in Baltimore for four years before signing with the Panthers in the offseason. He came to Carolina with hopes of earning a starting spot, and that's exactly what he did with his preseason play, beating out returning starter Sherrod Martin.
Nakamura, however, didn't want to talk about the interception after how the game ended. More than likely, he didn't really want to talk, period.
But with reporters hovering around his locker, Nakamura faced them like a man. He did what a good safety does, what he desperately wishes he could have done with time left on the clock: He had his teammates' backs.
"It was nobody else's fault but mine. There's no responsibility on anybody else," Nakamura said. "It's hard on me because I'm supposed to come in and be a difference maker. To cost the team a football game, especially with how hard we played, it's just hard to deal with.
"This team deserves better. All I can do is come back and work hard and learn from it."