FLOWERY BRANCH - Roddy White was kicking himself after the game. Sure, it would have been a tough catch, but it shows just how far he's come that everyone expected him to make it.
Still, after letting a potential game-winning touchdown pass slip through his hands last weekend, the Atlanta Falcons' receiver was back to his smiling, cheerful self Wednesday. Clearly, he's moved on after the one that got away.
'I'm past that now,' White said. 'It's a play I can make. Everyone knows that. But the coaches were like, 'You're not the only one who messed up in the game.' There's other things we did wrong and if we had done them right, that could have changed the pace of the game. It's old news now.'
Besides, it wouldn't be fair to beat up on White for one of the few passes he didn't catch. The fourth-year receiver is having another huge season, piling up 58 receptions for 903 yards through Atlanta's first 10 games. He's already had five 100-yard efforts and is on pace for 1,445 yards, which would easily be the most productive season in franchise history.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, who's gotten much of the credit for the Falcons' surprisingly strong performance, knows he wouldn't be having nearly as good a year without White.
'When you've got a receiver with that kind of talent,' Ryan said, 'you're going to do everything you can to develop the chemistry as fast as you can.'
While the two clearly clicked right from the start, White had already gone through an awakening in his own career before Ryan arrived.
Let's go back a few years.
White was a first-round pick out of UAB, where he faced a level of competition that made it easy for him to dominate. He didn't need to worry about running perfect routes, or paying attention during film study, or putting in extra work on the practice field.
After being drafted by the Falcons, he figured on more of the same.
'I don't think his focus was as much on football as it needed to be,' longtime Falcons receiver Brian Finneran said. 'I remember getting on him quite a bit his rookie year just because I saw so much talent there and I hated to see it going to waste.'
He'll get no argument from White.
'When I first got here, I didn't do anything right,' he conceded. 'I just kind of played around. I was always waiting for next year, always the next year. I kept saying, 'I'll do good the next year, the next year.' Then it started to wind down. I was like, 'Man, I've got to get on the ball.'
White's nadir came during a 2006 loss to New Orleans, when he dropped several passes - most notably one at the Saints 10 with no one around that could have pulled out the game. Then-coach Jim Mora fell to his knees in disbelief after the ball fell to the turf.
'I was out there dropping balls my little kid could catch,' White recalled.
He heard plenty of boos that day. It was a new experience for him.
'I was the guy in college that everybody was counting on to make the plays. I was the guy at the end of the game getting all handshakes,' White said. 'I had never been booed like that in my life. Sometimes it takes something like that for you to turn the page, get on the right page and start maturing. I think it helped me more than it hurt me.'