CHARLOTTE – Thrust into the starting lineup with veteran Jerricho Cotchery sidelined by a hamstring injury, undrafted rookie wide receiver Philly Brown caught virtually every ball that came to him Sunday night.
But one ball he didn't catch didn't simply go down as an incomplete pass. Instead, it went down as the play that completed the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory over the Panthers.
"I just didn't get it tucked away quick enough, and he got his hand in there," said Brown, whose fumble on a punt return sealed Carolina's fate in a 37-19 loss. "I just tried to do too much at the time. I could have made the smart play and fell on it, but instead I picked it up.
"It's something I'll learn from. I'll move on and get better."
The Panthers may very well have lost anyway, and they might not have even had the chance that still remained if not for Brown. He finished with seven receptions for 66 yards, with six of his catches came on Panthers scoring drives.
"He's a young kid that gave us a huge spark offensively tonight, stepping in for Cotch," tight end Greg Olsen said. "He was a huge positive tonight. We're not going to let one play define the evening he had.
"Philly played a lot of snaps and was really reliable for us in the passing game. He gave us a spark, gave us a speed element. We're not going to let one play put a damper on that."
But understandably, that one play led to most of the postgame questions directed at Brown. After Olsen caught a 35-yard touchdown pass and the defense forced a three-and-out, the Panthers had some momentum and were poised to get the ball back with 11 minutes left, trailing 23-13.
Brad Wing's 59-yard punt drove Brown back to the 12-yard line, and he misjudged it slightly while hurrying to settle under it. The ball bounced off of him and onto the turf, but he gathered the ball and tried to return it, only to have it knocked loose by safety Sharmarko Thomas.
A wild scramble for the loose ball ensued and ended in the end zone, where Steelers safety Robert Golden secured it for a touchdown and a 30-13 cushion.
"My thing to him was that he had too much of a good game to dwell on something that bad," quarterback Cam Newton said. "But that's the moral of this game – one play it was this player, next play it was that player. Players just took turns making mistakes.
"Philly is a great player, as you saw today. I have no doubt in my mind that he's going to bounce back and have a big impact for us."
Brown looked like a long shot to make the team when training camp started, if for no other reasons than he went undrafted out of Ohio State and the Panthers had a number of talented receivers competing for not-a-lot of roster spots.
But Brown made the team by earning the kick return job, and head coach Ron Rivera said he'd continue in that role even as the team continues to evaluate the position.
Brown, for his part, will do everything in his power to make sure any future highlights are positives for the Panthers rather than the opposition.
"I'll just keep doing what I'm doing, keep going out early and catching extra punts and get more comfortable out there," Brown said. "They just told me to keep my head up, that it's a long season."