With 6:44 left in regulation, the Falcons were driving deep in the Panthers' territory. They had third-and-1 at the Panthers' 16-yard line and went into their no-huddle mode.
Matt Ryan called a quarterback sneak and was stopped for no gain by defensive tackle Damione Lewis.
On the day, the Falcons were 6-for-14 (43 percent) on third-down conversions and the sneak would seem like a high percentage play, especially with the offensive line steam-rolling its way towards 176 rushing yards.
However, at that one key juncture, the line didn't get the push. It was the first domino to fall in the sequence.
"We were in no-huddle mode and Matt tells us that -- we have a code word for it," said right guard Harvey Dahl. "We didn't get good push. We didn't give him enough chance to get the first down. Just one of those things we didn't take advantage of that opportunity."
Earlier in the week, Panthers head coach John Fox said his team had shored up its defensive line with the addition of 14-year veteran Hollis Thomas, a 6-foot, 340-pounder. On that play, Dahl said Thomas effectively stood in the Falcons' path.
"Hollis Thomas, that's what he does," Dahl said. "He tries to clog up that middle. That's why he's been in the league for however long. We just need to get a better push on that."
After the ball was spotted short of the first down marker, Smith threw the red challenge flag seeking a better spot.
The challenge failed, as the official confirmed that Ryan's elbow was down on the field where the ball originally was spotted.
The last straw was the next play.The Falcons lined up for a 34-yard field goal. Jason Elam had made his first two tries earlier in the day.
But the kick went wide left with 6:39 left and the Falcons remained down 21-19.
"I kind of got going a little bit early," said Elam, who ranked 33rd of 36 NFL field goal kickers in percentage (64 percent) entering the game. He has now made 9 of 14, keeping him at 64 percent. "My timing was just kind of a mess from the start. It's me. I need to take that blame.
"It seems like everything that can go wrong is going wrong for me. All I can control is how I prepare and my attitude and I'm trying to claw and dig my way out of this thing. It's very unfortunate that it happened when it did. It certainly would have helped us out a lot if we'd gotten that one."
It was only the second game of the season for Falcons long snapper Bryan Pittman, whom the team signed prior to last Sunday's game with Washington after Mike Schneck was placed on injured reserve.
But Elam would not use a new long snapper and potential misfire in chemistry -- an exchange in which the chemistry between the snapper, holder and kicker are everything -- as an excuse.
"I'll take the blame on that," Elam said when asked about the veteran Pittman who played 92 games with the Houston Texans in that capacity. "He's been doing a great job for us and I've got to make it."
Said Smith: "The timing was not as clean as we're accustomed to seeing."
Certainly, that juncture featured a number of missed opportunities for the Falcons on a day of too many.
MORE FALCONS-PANTHERS GAME COVERAGE:
GAMEDAY LIVE:Complete Falcons-Panthers coverage from AF.com * GAME CENTER:Stats and more on the game from NFL.com * GAME SIDEBAR: John Manasso looks at key moments from the game * BEAT BLOG: Game updates and insight in The Beat Blog * GAME NOTEBOOK:Notes from the Bank of America Stadium press box * FIRST TAKE:Exclusive postgame interviews from AF.com * MULTIMEDIA:More Falcons-Panthers game interviews and highlights * QUOTABLE:Postgame thoughts from Falcons players | Panthers * J. MIKE'S MISSIVES:Thoughts on the game from the managing editor * INACTIVES:Falcons-Panthers game inactives and starters