Julio Jones watched the ball fly through the air, over the entire Carolina Panthers defense, and into his awaiting arms ... and then he watched it bobble, bobble again, and fall to the ground in the end zone. Jones, dismayed, did the same.
“Just missed it,” Jones said after the game. “Here’s the thing, with fumbles, with drops, things like that – we’re not going out there trying to do it. It just happens.
“We’re not taught to drop balls; we’re not taught to just go out there and fumble. Things just happen, it’s just luck of the draw.”
The play came midway through the fourth quarter of Carolina’s 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and the result couldn’t have been more unexpected. Jones, Atlanta’s all-world receiver, had torched the Panthers secondary all afternoon, becoming the first player this season to have 100 receiving yards against Carolina’s defense.
So as Jones streaked all alone down the left sideline, the result of a blown coverage by safety Mike Adams (who also had an interception in the game), it was easy to picture the end result: Jones, in the end zone, celebrating a touchdown.
Instead he dropped the ball, not only costing his team points but the ball, since the play came on fourth down.
But right after the play, something unusual happened. Panthers safety Kurt Coleman, who had trailed Jones on the play, actually came up to Jones and talked with him, as if trying to console him.
“I guess he’s a very spiritual guy,” Jones said of Coleman. “He said some spiritual things to me, that was it.”
Jones also said the two had no prior relationship. Coleman was more specific about what he told Jones.
“I just told him ‘Glory to God,’” Coleman said. “I think sometimes we want to glorify Him in the good times, sometimes you’ve just got to glorify Him in the bad times. I know he’s a great wide receiver, he’s going to catch a lot more than he drops of those.”
Considering this was Jones’ first drop in the end zone since 2012, there’s a reason to have such confidence in him. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said after the play, he had a similar message for Jones, who was an All-Pro each of the last two seasons.
“Forget it man. Let’s get to the next one,” Ryan said he told Jones after the play. “That’s it. A hundred out of a hundred times he’s going to make plays. He’s made more plays in this league than probably anybody, so sometimes it happens.”
Unfortunately for the Falcons, it came at one of the game’s most crucial junctures. But Carolina would be remiss to give Jones another shot at that kind of play – like everyone said, he isn’t bound to drop it again.
One Falcons defender had Jonathan Stewart’s number
While Carolina won Sunday’s game and several players, including running back Christian McCaffrey, had solid games, not every Panther was so lucky.
Count Jonathan Stewart as one of those who didn’t have his best performance. Stewart rushed for just 21 yards on 11 carries, and one of those went for 9 yards. Take that play away, and he had 12 yards on 10 carries.
Oh, and then there’s the two fumbles he lost in the span of three carries.
Both of them were forced – the first a rip, the second a punch – and caused by Atlanta defensive back Keanu Neal. Neal also recovered the first fumble he caused.
When asked what he saw on those two forced fumbles, Neal simply said, “the ball” before diving into a more thorough answer.
“Every week we talk about getting the ball, that’s one of the pillars of the program,” Neal said. “That’s what we do. So when we get the (opportunities), we take advantage of them.
“I had the opportunities, and I took advantage of them.”