Darius Johnson takes blame for late fumble

ATLANTA -- As well as Darius Johnson played for most of Thursday night's game, the Atlanta Falcons rookie couldn't help but point the blame at himself.

Johnson had six catches for 67 yards while abusing New Orleans Saints reserve cornerback Corey White. Johnson also nearly has his second-career touchdown, but he was ruled down following a review. Plus he drew a pass interference call on White with a veteran-like move. Yet all Johnson could think about was his fourth-quarter fumble with the Falcons driving into the red zone.

Johnson caught a pass from Matt Ryan for 2 yards then got the ball knocked away by Saints linebacker Keyunta Dawson. White, the goat for most of the game, came up with the key fumble recovery.

"I just didn't have it secured," Johnson admitted after the 17-13 loss. "He made a good play on the ball. It just came out. I already knew as soon as it came out that I wasn't down. It was just a good play by him."

While Johnson sulked in the locker room, head coach Mike Smith stood at the podium and offered words of encouragement for the player who joined the team as an undrafted free agent.

"Darius is a strong young man who has come a long way in a short time in terms of undrafted free agents," Smith said. "Plays like that are going to happen. Unfortunately, it happened at a very bad time for our football team, but he will bounce back. The guys in that locker room will help him.

"That play did not lose the football game for us. There were many plays that were factors in us not winning the ball game."

Regardless, Johnson is likely to reflect on his mistakes for at least a few days. He also dropped a pass over the middle while wide open on third-and-2. The fumble, however, was the most glaring.

"He made a good play on the ball. I didn't see him," Johnson said. "I should have had it tucked high and tight, but he made a good play and knocked the ball our."

Johnson was hard on himself, yet he showed promise for the future. Going from an unknown player out of SMU to Ryan's primary first-half target was a dramatic step. And Ryan expressed confidence in Johnson moving forward even despite the fumble.

"It's definitely something to build on," Johnson said. "We would have loved to have come out on top. I am pleased with my performance ... but I'm torn between the two. It's mixed emotions. I live on to fight another day."