CHARLOTTE – One of the biggest plays from Carolina's 20-17 victory over Atlanta was one that wasn't made.
Julio Jones of all people was wide open in the end zone on fourth-and-7 midway through the fourth quarter. But arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL inexplicably dropped it, allowing the Panthers to maintain their then 10-point lead.
"Everybody gets a break once in a while, don't we?" head coach Ron Rivera said.
The baffling incompletion left everyone with two questions.
- How could Carolina allow Jones to be uncovered in that situation?
- How could Jones drop one of the easiest touchdowns he'll ever see?
Let's start with the first one, which can be answered by safety Mike Adams.
"That was totally on me," he admitted.
Adams, who helped turn the game in Carolina's favor with an interception late in the first half, was exploited by the Falcons after they saw how he played Jones' route earlier in the game. It was a case of what Rivera and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks call "dirty eyes."
"When they ran it earlier I jumped it and I made him double-pump it and we got a sack," Adams explained. "So they came back to it and knew I was going to jump it again, and Julio made a good move and went up top.
"But he dropped it, which is unusual."
Unusual would be an understatement. We're talking about a guy who makes circus catches look rather routine, a guy who torched Carolina for 300 yards in their first of two meetings last season.
So, on to question No. 2. How could that guy drop that ball?
A couple of Carolina defensive backs cited divine intervention.
"A gust of wind, God, Jesus – you're kind of helpless," safety Kurt Coleman said.
Added cornerback Captain Munnerlyn: "I couldn't believe he was wide open. I looked up and was like, 'Oh my God.' I saw him bobbling the ball and was just hoping he would go to the ground and drop it. He did. The football Gods were on our side with that one.
"You definitely need the football guys on your side sometimes, and they were on that catch – err, incompletion."
Linebacker Luke Kuechly theorized that the fans near the end zone had something to do with Jones' mistake.
"I think the fans had a little impact on that. They put some juju on him or something," Kuechly said with a laugh. "He's a great player, and that doesn't happen a lot. So maybe the fans put a hex on him, cast a spell."
As a wide receiver, Devin Funchess could easily put himself in Jones' shoes. Anyone who catches passes for a living will tell you the easiest ones are often times the hardest.
"I was in awe," Funchess said, "but that's the hardest catch for a wideout, being that open and having that much space."
Jones, who finished the game with six catches for 118 yards, explained his drop the only way he could.
"I just missed it," he said. "No excuses or anything like that. I just missed it."
His miss is the Panthers' gain.
"I'll take it," Adams said.
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Falcons by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez and second shooters Andrew Dye and Jamey Price.