Continuing my look at the most memorable plays during the Carolina Panthers' 2013 season is arguably the biggest defensive play of a season filled with big defensive plays.
The play: (Dec. 29) Undrafted rookie cornerback Melvin White intercepts a pass by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and returns it 8 yards for a touchdown with the Panthers trailing 10-0 midway through the second quarter.
The final score: Panthers 21, Falcons 20
Why it made the list: Because this sparked the comeback that gave Carolina the NFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Panthers were struggling. They trailed 10-0 and had just fumbled away a scoring opportunity at the Atlanta 4. After 2-yard loss by running back Steven Jackson, Ryan dropped back and threw a pass into the left flat. White and safety Mike Mitchell recognized the formation from film study and anticipated where the ball was going. White snagged the ball at the 8, stumbled to the ground about the 2 and crawled into the end zone to cut the lead to 10-7. It was a huge play by a player that was overlooked in the draft, who had struggled in a few games with keeping receivers in front of him. This time he anticipated the play perfectly. "We just knew from film study when they get inside the numbers, they like to run quick outs," White said. "I read it, and just went with it." Had Ryan thrown the ball to the inside instead of the outside, Mitchell said he was waiting. Regardless, until that turnover Carolina was headed for a major upset. "We were getting beat," Mitchell said. "We needed momentum. We needed a play. A huge play for him." It was a huge play for the Panthers, but the celebration was somewhat forgettable. White lost the ball in an attempt to dunk it over the goal post. "He really made the play to turn the whole game around," cornerback Drayton Florence said. "The celebration was a little weak."