Falcons Blow Lead in London to Lose to Lions 22-21

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Prater celebrates with teammates after the game-winner

The Atlanta Falcons blew a 21-0 halftime lead to lose in the final seconds to the Detroit Lions by a score of 22-21. Lions kicker Matt Prater kicked a game-winning 48-yard field goal with time expiring to pull off the comeback victory in London, putting the Falcons’ losing streak at five games as their 2014 record falls to 2-6 heading into their bye week.

Matt Ryan started strong, completing 20 of 27 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Steven Jackson led the team in rushing with 60 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Roddy White led receivers for the second week in a row with five receptions for 66 yards. Julio Jones added four catches for 58 yards, while Harry Douglas added three catches for 42 yards in his first action since Week 3. Devonta Freeman and Bear Pascoe each had touchdown passes on their lone receptions of the day for seven and one yard, respectively. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 38.3 yards with one punt placed inside the 20-yard line. Devin Hester had a single punt return for 20 yards and a pair of kickoffs for 44 yards on the day. The Falcons’ third-down offense showed significant improvement from previous weeks, converting four of eight attempts on the day. However, the team only converted one of four third-down attempts in the second half. The Falcons finished the game with 291 total yards, but only generated 80 yards of total offense in the second half. The Falcons controlled time of possession in the first half, retaining the ball for 18 minutes, but only had 11 minutes of possession in the second half.

Defensively, the Falcons allowed 385 total yards to the Lions, with 282 of that coming in the second half with the Lions attempting to come back. The Falcons gave up 240 passing yards in the second half of the game, and the Lions also converted six of nine second-half third-down attempts after only converting two of six attempts in the first half. Safety Kemal Ishmael led the Falcons in tackles with six stops. Robert Alford (one interception); Joplo Bartu (five tackles); Kroy Biermann (three tackles); Ra’Shede Hageman (three tackles, one tackle for loss); Tyson Jackson (one tackle, one tackle for loss, one pass deflection); Dwight Lowery (five tackles, two pass deflections); Robert McClain (four tackles); Paul Soliai (two tackles, one tackle for loss); Desmond Trufant (four tackles, one pass deflection); Josh Wilson (two tackles, one tackle for loss); and Paul Worrilow (four tackles, one forced fumble) had notable games.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Devonta Freeman celebrates his first career touchdown

The Lions won the toss and deferred to the second half, allowing the Falcons to open the game. Patrick DiMarco dropped Ryan’s first pass of the game on the opening play. But Jackson ran for seven yards off the right side. A false start by tackle Jake Matthews backed the Falcons up five yards to produce a 3rd-and-8, but Ryan found an open White over the middle for a 24-yard gain to put the ball near midfield. An encroachment penalty on Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley and a pair of four-yard runs by Steven Jackson pushed the ball into Lions territory. Ryan connected with his three starting receivers: White, Jones and Levine Toilolo on his next three passes. The latter catch by Toilolo was a 15-yard gain that put the ball at the Lions eight-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan found Freeman in the flat on a swing pass. Freeman made a defender miss and ran into the end zone for a seven-yard score, the first of his career. That score gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 9:25 left in the first quarter. The 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive marked only the second time this season that the Falcons scored a touchdown on their opening possession of a game.

The Lions dialed up their top wide receiver in Golden Tate to open their drive with a pair of catches for 13 yards. Pressure by Biermann on the next play however forced Lions quarterback Matt Stafford to throw a pass into the dirt to avoid the sack. A holding call on Lions guard Rob Sims negated a seven-yard run by running back Theo Riddick on the next play, putting the Lions back in a 2nd-and-20. On 3rd-and-13, Stafford’s deep out to wide receiver Corey Fuller was overthrown and the Falcons defense had their first stop of the day with a forced punt. Devin Hester’s 20-yard return began the Falcons’ next possession at their 44-yard line.

Ryan’s first pass on the ensuing drive went to Jones for a 14-yard gain thanks to a couple of broken tackles after the catch. Two plays later, Ryan took a deep shot to Jones in the end zone, but his pass was overthrown. The Falcons were further backed on the play by an illegal hands to the face penalty on Matthews, setting up a 2nd-and-17. A nine-yard gain on a screen to Jacquizz Rodgers set up a more manageable 3rd-and-8 play, where Ryan found Douglas for a 16-yard gain on a corner route. Ryan’s next pass went to White in the end zone where he was unable to make the contested grab in bounds, but Lions cornerback Darius Slay was flagged for pass interference, setting up the Falcons at the one-yard line. The Lions bit on the play-action fake to Steven Jackson on the next play, leaving Pascoe wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy one-yard touchdown, marking Pascoe’s first reception of the season. The Falcons now had a 14-0 lead with less than three minutes to go in the first quarter.

The Lions offense continued to look out of sorts on the ensuing drive, as Stafford’s hand-off to running back Joique Bell was fumbled on the exchange. But Bell managed to fall on the ball, leading to a five-yard loss. Corey Fuller got most of the yards back on a 14-yard gain over the middle to set up a 3rd-and-1, which the Lions converted on a three-yard carry by fullback Jed Collins up the middle. The Lions converted another third down thanks to a pass interference penalty on Alford, who was flagged on a contested throw to Fuller over the middle on the opening play of the second quarter. Two plays later, Worrilow stripped Lions wide out Jeremy Ross along the sideline after a seven-yard catch and run, but the ball squirted out of bounds before a Falcon could recover it. Stafford targeted Tate on his next two passes. On the first, Tate beat Trufant on a double move, but Lowery came over the top to knock him out of bounds before he could get both feet planted, setting up a 3rd-and-6. Wilson broke up the quick out to Tate on third down and the Lions opted to punt from the Falcons’ 37-yard line instead of attempt the long field goal. The Falcons took over at their 10-yard line with 12:40 left in the second quarter.

After two minimal gains by Antone Smith, Ryan attempted a deep throw to Jones down the left sideline. Jones made the grab, but was out of bounds, leading to the Falcons’ first three-and-out of the day. Bosher had a 50-yard punt to start the Lions at their 39-yard line.

Lions newly signed tight end Kellen Davis dropped an open throw on second down the seam, and Osi Umenyiora put a big hit on Stafford on a third-down pass that was also broken up by Trufant to force a three-and-out for the Lions as well. The Falcons took over after the punt at their 11-yard line with 10:02 left in the first half.

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Steven Jackson celebrates a touchdown and 11,000 career rushing yards

Ryan completed his first four passes on the next drive to move the Falcons to midfield. Ryan’s next pass went to White for a three-yard gain, but an unnecessary roughness penalty on Lions safety James Ihedigbo as he tackled White out of bounds gained the Falcons an additional 15 yards to put the team in the red zone. Ryan took a shot to Jones in the end zone on the ensuing play, but the pass was picked off by cornerback Rashean Mathis, who returned it 102 yards for a touchdown. But the Lions score was negated due to a pass interference call on Mathis prior to the interception, giving the Falcons another first down at the 17-yard line. A trio of runs by Jackson pushed the Falcons to 2nd-and-goal from the one-yard line. Jackson finished off the drive with a one-yard run up the middle to push Atlanta’s lead to 21-0 with 3:45 left in the first half. With that score, Jackson went over the 11,000 rushing yards career mark.

The Lions pushed the tempo on their next drive with Stafford targeting Riddick on a series of check downs on four consecutive passes to start the drive. On his fifth pass, Stafford connected with Ross, who slipped a Trufant tackle and then hurdled Ishmael for a 15-yard gain to put the ball in Falcons territory as the two-minute warning hit. Stafford completed just one of his next three passes to set up a 3rd-and-15 at the Falcons’ 35-yard line. Stafford targeted Fuller, but the Lions receiver slipped allowing Alford to make an easy interception at the 18-yard line.

The Falcons took over with 1:14 left in the half, but the Falcons were content to sit on their lead and ran out the clock to go into halftime still up 21-0.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Lions were able to move the ball to midfield before Tate got behind the Falcons linebackers for a 28-yard gain on third down. A few plays later, the Lions then converted their third third down of the series on a four-yard crossing pattern to wide receiver Ryan Broyles to put the ball at the nine-yard line. After a five-yard run by Bell, the Lions offense stalled. Tyson Jackson nearly intercepted a pass by Stafford at the line of scrimmage, which was followed by pressure by Umenyiora, who hit Stafford’s arm on the wind upend prevented the completion on third down. Lions kicker Matt Prater then hit on a 22-yard field goal to get the Lions on the board, down 21-3 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Golden Tate beats Kemal Ishmael for a score

Ryan was sacked and stripped by defensive tackle Jason Jones from behind on the opening play of the Falcons series, but right tackle Ryan Schraeder was able to fall on the loose ball to recover. But Jones came unblocked up the middle on third down to hit Ryan again, leading to an overthrown pass to Douglas, resulting in another three-and-out for the Falcons offense.

A pair of penalties from Lions tackle Garrett Reynolds backed them up, but on 3rd-and-25, Tate got behind Kemal Ishmael for a 59-yard touchdown on a bomb from Stafford. The Lions now cut the Falcons lead to 21-10 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.

An illegal use of hands penalty on Schraeder and a sack from Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh slowed down the Falcons offense to start their next series. But Suh’s sack, which would have resulted in a 3rd-and-14 was negated by an illegal contact penalty on Mathis, giving the Falcons a fresh set of downs. A pair of hard runs by Jackson gained 17 combined yards to get the Falcons from being deep in their own territory. Roddy White was stripped by Mathis after a nine-yard catch over the middle, but managed to fall on the loose ball before a Lions defender could recover. On the next play, Ryan lost track of Julio Jones on the opposite side of the field and threw an interception right to cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who returned it 45 yards to the seven-yard line.

But the Falcons defense held as the fourth quarter began, stopping the Lions on a pair of runs. Stafford’s third-down slant to Tate was overthrown and the Lions had to settle for a 20-yard field goal, to cut the lead to one score. Prater connected and the Falcons were still up 21-13 with 14:10 left in the game.

The Falcons offense continued to mix in a heavy dosage of passing as Ryan connected with White on an 18-yard gain on the second play of their next series. Douglas dropped Ryan’s next pass in the flat, which was followed up two plays later on third down with a Ziggy Ansah sack on Ryan. Ryan was stripped once more, but Matthews was able to recover the loose ball at the Falcons’ 28-yard line, giving the Falcons the opportunity to punt the ball back to the Lions with 11:25 left in the game.

The Lions attempted a flea-flicker on the third play of the next series, but Stafford under threw Tate down the field. An 11-yard screen pass to Bell on the next play put the ball in Falcons territory. Three plays later, Fuller beat Trufant on a crossing pattern for a 13-yard gain to put the ball down at the Falcons 27-yard line. Collins converted another third down on a two-yard run up the middle to get the ball to the 16-yard line. A screen to Bell for an 11-yard gain put the ball at the five-yard line and two plays later, Stafford found a wide open Riddick on a five-yard touchdown pass on a sprint-out to the right side. That cut the Falcons lead to 21-19 with four minutes left as the Lions attempted to tie the game with a two-point conversion. But Trufant broke up a pass to Tate near the goal line to prevent the conversion and Atlanta still held a two-point lead.

The Falcons dialed up their running game on the next series, as Jackson gained seven yards on the opening play. But Jackson was stuffed for a two-yard loss on second down to set up a critical 3rd-and-5. Douglas made a tough catch with his finger tips off a rub route to convert that third down, the first the Falcons had converted in the second half. Jones found daylight two plays later for a 22-yard gain on a screen pass to put the ball in Lions territory as the two-minute warning hit. But the Falcons running game went nowhere on runs by Freeman and Jackson on their next two plays. On 3rd-and-10, Jones dropped the pass on the same screen play the Falcons dialed up previous, leading to a Falcons punt with 1:46 left in the game. Bosher booted it 33 yards, forcing a fair catch by Ross at the seven-yard line.

But the favorable field position was for naught, as Tate got behind Worrilow down the seam for a 32-yard gain to start the Lions drive. Two plays later, Worrilow got beat again by Riddick on an option route over the middle for a 20-yard gain to get the ball down to the Falcons 41-yard line. The Lions spiked the ball with 49 seconds left. Bartu then got beat on a 10-yard catch by Ross, which was followed by another spike from Stafford. That stopped the clock with 34 seconds. The Lions handed off to Bell, who was stopped by Hageman for a one-yard gain, which was followed by the Falcons burning their final timeout with 25 seconds left. Bell ran it up the middle for a one-yard gain on 3rd-and-9 to set up a long field, but a five-yard defensive holding call on Soliai gave the Lions a fresh set of downs and the opportunity to burn additional time off the clock with a pair of spikes. With four seconds on the clock, Prater came out on the field to attempt a 43-yard field goal and the kick was no good, but a delay of game call backed up the Lions five yards and gave them another chance for the kick. The next time, Prater did not miss on the 48-yard field goal with time expiring to give the Lions the comeback victory.

The Falcons will try and solve their multitude of problems during their bye week next week and hope to be able to get another win in Week 10 against the last team they beat: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons stomped the Bucs in the Georgia Dome in Week 3 by a score of 56-14, the second-largest margin of victory in team history. The Falcons will travel to Tampa to face the Bucs. Their last visit was a 41-28 loss in 2013. The Falcons have lost seven straight games away from the Georgia Dome, and are just 1-12 dating back to 2012.

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Aaron Freeman
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