- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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The pass most folks will recall from the Atlanta Falcons' 34-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night is the one Matt Ryan threw to Harry Douglas that was jarred from Douglas' hand, intercepted by linebacker NaVorro Bowman and returned 89 yards for the game-clinching score.
The pass that should be remembered -- at least from the Falcons' standpoint -- is the one Ryan sailed deep to Roddy White for a 39-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It arguably was Ryan's sharpest long ball of the season, although White certainly made a nice adjustment to make a falling, over-the-shoulder catch between 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock and free safety Eric Reid.
More than anything, the play symbolized a positive step for the Falcons toward next year.
Yes, the Ryan-White connection is back clicking again.
White hadn't been himself all season after first suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason and then a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the first games of his career. Monday night, he looked more like the four-time Pro Bowl receiver the Falcons had grown accustomed to seeing since he entered the league in 2005.
White caught a season-high 12 passes for 141 yards on the same field he posted a career-high 210 receiving yards in 2009. Over the past four games, White has 35 catches for 411 yards. Those 35 catches are tied for the NFL lead this month.
No doubt, the 32-year-old White has discovered his fountain of youth at the right time. There have been talks of the team signing him to an extension this offseason, but it was fair to wonder if White's slew of injuries might cause the organization to hesitate.
White's performance as of late, however, shows just how valuable an asset he is to this team. Even if top receiver Julio Jones returns to full strength next season following foot surgery, the Falcons need White to be the stabilizing force in the receiving corps.
Not to mention tight end Tony Gonzalez will retire after this Sunday's season finale against the Carolina Panthers, taking away one of Ryan's primary targets. That will put the onus on White and Jones to be the dominant tandem they were in 2012, when each surpassed 1,000 receiving yards.
At least from White's perspective, Monday night should have been a sign of more to come. Provided the Falcons can shore up the offensive line in the offseason, the offense should be back among the league's elite next season if everyone returns healthy.
And when healthy, White is among the league's elite. Just ask the 49ers defensive backs.