Matt Ryan's deep bomb to Julio Jones hung in the air. The All-Pro receiver ran under the ball without a defender in earshot. Hauling in this easy fourth-down catch would pull the Atlanta Falcons within three points with more than half a quarter remaining.
A microcosm of the Falcons' season, the dominant receiver had a could-be season-altering play clang off his hands. Jones was so wide open he had another chance to recapture the pigskin, only to see it flutter harmlessly to the turf.
"I didn't take advantage of the opportunity," Jones said after the drop, via the team's official website. "I just missed it ... there's no excuses."
The Falcons pulled within three points later, but instead of having several drives to even the score, Atlanta had just one more and turned the ball over on four plays to end a 20-17 loss, falling to 4-4 behind the Panthers (6-3) and Saints (6-2) in the NFC South.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn talked all offseason about how the epic Super Bowl loss wouldn't lead to a hangover for his team. He was wrong.
The Falcons appear to be fighting demons at every turn. Nothing comes easy on offense. The defense can't stop a gaggle of kittens from matriculating the ball down the field.
On Sunday, even the team's best player saw an easy TD jump off his hands as if swatted by some imaginary force.
A couple Carolina defensive backs cited divine forces for Jones' drop:
"I couldn't believe he was wide open," added corner Captain Munnerlyn. "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's theory involved fan voodoo.
"I think the fans had a little impact on that. They put some juju on him or something," Kuechly said laughing. "He's a great player, and that doesn't happen a lot. So maybe the fans put a hex on him, cast a spell."
Whether God, hexes, or plain ol' hangover struggles were to blame for Jones' flub, the missed opportunity helps put Atlanta behind the eight ball, and the Panthers in prime playoff position.