CHARLOTTE – Unlike the mangled swath between the hash marks, the grass closest to each sideline at Bank of America Stadium usually escapes unscathed even after a three-hour scrum as intense as Sunday's between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks.
But on this particular day, in a couple of spots on either side of the 5-yard line near the Panthers sideline, the players left their mark.
The impression that the imprint left on running back DeAngelo Williams was palpable.
"I wanted it back," said Williams, whose fumble in that spot short-circuited a drive that could have made all the difference in the Panthers' 12-7 loss. "This is our house, and we protect our house. We protect the ball.
"When the ball came out, nobody was more upset than I was because I knew the hopes and dreams of the 11 guys on the offense resided in that ball."
At the tail end of a 16-yard run that would have given the Panthers for a first-and-goal with about five minutes remaining, Williams had the ball stripped away by safety Earl Thomas. In the massive pile of humanity that followed, with a desperate Williams right in the middle of it, defensive tackle Tony McDaniel secured possession for the Seahawks.
The Panthers never got the ball back.
"It was the backside guy that got it," Williams said. "He caught me in my spin and got all ball. He didn't actually hit me; he hit all ball.
"I knew from film study that they like to do that, to go after the ball and not the guy. So it was all on me."
Williams' hard-nosed running style, the one he displayed throughout the day on his way to a game-high 86 rushing yards on 17 carries, may have betrayed him in this case. Even with his dogged determination to get every last yard possible, he lost just seven total fumbles in his first seven seasons with the Panthers, but his style may have played into Seattle's greedy hands at that moment.
"Every time I touch the ball, I think I've got a shot at scoring," Williams said. "That's what I was trying to do, and unfortunately he took advantage of it and got the ball out."
On this day, an opening day that held so much promise for the Panthers against one of the trendy Super Bowl picks, it was a hard pill for Williams to swallow. His teammates tried to soften the blow.
"There aren't going to be any shots fired at him," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "It was a great run. He was running extremely hard, but these guys are the best in the league at creating turnovers.
"There are things as an offense and as a defense that we could have done to eliminate this from happening. The first quarter, second quarter, third quarter – this game did not come down to one particular play."
Williams would have none of it, saying that as far as the blame game goes, "I'm taking all of it, not just a lot. It was my fault."
But, in the bigger picture, Williams was able to take solace.
First of all, he was encouraged by what he saw from his team.
"Big time and not just the running game but our team in general," Williams said. "Everybody saw it. Those guys coming in were supposed to run us off the field.
"All the way up until the fourth quarter we're winning this game, and then I give away a hard-fought victory."
And secondly, Williams walked away resolute that what happened Sunday won't happen on a subsequent Sunday.
"This won't be a headline for the rest of the year," he said. "It will be the headline for this game, and we'll move on and get better. They'll know when they call No. 34's number that he's going to deliver."