Falcons defense tames the Lions
The Falcons pulled off an impressive road win against the Detroit Lions by a score of 23-16. The Falcons got off to a very strong start and were helped by a very strong performance by their defense. A few Falcon players reached some impressive benchmarks during the course of the game.
Matt Ryan led the team, completing 20 of 34 passes for 318 yards with a touchdown and 2 interceptions. Ryan also rushed for a touchdown on a QB sneak. Ryan left the game briefly with an ankle and knee injury in the third quarter, but only missed two offensive snaps before returning to the game to finish. Michael Turner had a nice game on the ground with 122 yards on 27 carries, including an impressive 50-yard run. In the air, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White shared the team lead with 5 receptions each. Gonzalez had 62 yards receiving, while White had 52 yards and a touchdown. Gonzo moved into second place all-time behind Jerry Rice with career receptions, passing both Marvin Harrison and Cris Carter on the day. Harry Douglas also had a nice day receiving with 4 catches for 62 yards. Matt Bryant connected on 3 field goals of 23, 47, and 40 yards. He also broke the Falcons record for consecutive field goals with 27 straight and counting. The record of 26 was set by Norm Johnson back in 1993. Matt Bosher had a nice day punting with 5 punts, averaging 35.4 per kick and having 2 placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems had a good day on returns averaging 27.3 yards on 3 kickoffs despite having a 104-yard touchdown negated by a penalty. He also had 4 punt returns for an average of 15.5 yards, including a 37-yard return. Special teams was also successful in forcing the team’s lone turnover, as Akeem Dent knocked a Stefan Logan kickoff loose, allowing Jason Snelling to recover.
Defensively, the Falcons were sharp on third downs after a sluggish game a week ago in that realm against the Panthers. The Lions only converted 1 of 12 third down attempts, and their lone success did not come until there was little more 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Falcons were able to get pressure on Matt Stafford, with 3 sacks and for most of the game held wide receiver Calvin Johnson in check. Johnson ended the game with 5 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, but most of his yardage came on a single play, a 57-yard score. The defense held Matt Stafford to only 47 yards passing in the first half, the lowest first half total of his career, and a passer that has been averaging 288 yards per game this year. Curtis Lofton led the unit with 10 tackles. John Abraham (2 tackles, 1 sack), Ray Edwards (3 tackles, 1 pass defended), Brent Grimes (4 tackles, 2 passes defended), William Moore (4 tackles, 1 pass defended), Stephen Nicholas (6 tackles), Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 passes defended), and Sean Weatherspoon (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defended) all had noteworthy games.
The Falcons got off to a good start defensively with a three-and-out on the Detroit Lions opening offensive series. But the Falcons followed that up with a Ryan interception to Eric Wright a few plays later. Detroit got the ball at the Falcons 15-yard line, but the defense held them to a 43-yard Jason Hanson field goal thanks in large part to a pair of sacks by Abraham and Weatherspoon on first and second down. Eric Weems took the ensuing kickoff 104 yards for a score, but it was called back due to a block in the back called on Antone Smith. This led to a four-and-out and the Lions got the ball back. But the defense held again, as the Lions only generated -1 yards on 5 plays before punting the ball back to the Falcons. Weems made up for the previous return with a 37-yard punt return to start the Falcons drive at the Lions 26-yard line. The Falcons offense stalled on a 3rd and 1 from the 5-yard line with a run up the middle by Turner. But they were able to tie the game 3-3 with a 23-yard field goal from Matt Bryant. Eric Weems was called for an off-sides on the ensuing kickoff, forcing the team to re-kick. It was a lucky break since Stefan Logan fumbled the retry on a hit by Akeem Dent, and it was recovered by Jason Snelling at the Detroit 28-yard line. Roddy White’s 15-yard grab on 3rd & 12 help put the Falcons in the redzone. A pass interference on Bobby Carpenter while trying to cover Tony Gonzalez put the ball at the 1-yard line. And three plays later, Ryan sneaked up the middle to get the Falcons first touchdown of the day and their first lead, 10-3 to end the first quarter. At the outset of the second quarter, the Lions were successful in moving the ball to the Falcons 20-yard line, but Brent Grimes dropped an overthrown pass by Stafford to Titus Young in the endzone, forcing the Lions to settle for a 38-yard field goal. The Falcons found success on their next drive, able to move the ball to midfield before Ryan was sacked to force a punt. Bosher nailed a punt to pin the Lions deep in their own territory, as their drive began at their own 9-yard line. The Falcons defense continued its strong day, limiting the Lions to another quick 5-play drive. On the ensuing drive with the second quarter waning, Ryan hit Gonzalez on a 30-yard pass and then two plays later hit him again for a 2-yard grab that was the one that moved him into second all-time. On the next play, Ryan found Roddy White in the back of the endzone for six. Roddy made a great finger-tip grab and kept his feet in bounds on the Ryan lob with just 31 seconds left to give the Falcons a 17-6 going into halftime.
Neither team got much of anything going at the beginning of the second half. The Falcons had a three-and-out followed by a quick Lions five-play drive before punting. Another three-and-out by the Falcons was made more dramatic as Will Svitek stepped on Ryan’s ankle forcing him to leave the game on third down. Maurice Morris hit a 31-yard run to get the ball to the Falcons 6-yard line on the Lions next drive. But Corey Peters sacked Stafford on third and goal to force the field goal. The first kick, a 34-yard attempt by Hanson was blocked by Ray Edwards. But the block was negated due to Edwards being off-sides. Hanson hit from 29 yards to cut the Falcons lead to 17-9. Chris Redman was now in the game, missing on his lone pass attempt on 2nd & 8. But Ryan returned on 3rd down and promptly hit Harry Douglas over the middle for a big 49-yard gain. The Falcons couldn’t quite capitalize and settle for a 47-yard field goal from Matt Bryant, which was the record breaker for him with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. The Lions were successful in converting their first 3rd down on the ensuing drive. On the next play, a fake end-around, Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for his 57-yard score, thanks to two missed tackles by William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. On the next Falcons offensive series, Turner bust up the gut for a 50-yard rumble to put the team in the redzone as the third quarter came to a close. The opening play of the fourth quarter was a bad one, as Ryan overthrew Gonzalez, leading to an Amari Spievey interception at the 2-yard line. But the defense held again, with a three and out. The Falcons were able to start their next drive in Lions territory at the 47-yard line. Mike Smith gambled and went for it on a 4th & 2, but the conversion failed on an incomplete pass to Roddy White. However, Lions safety Louis Delmas was flagged for defensive holding on Gonzalez giving the Falcons a first down. Although the Falcons managed to get inside the redzone, they settled once again for a Bryant field goal, this time from 40 yards to take a 23-16 lead. The Lions responded with a three-and-out giving the Falcons the ball back at their own 23-yard line with 7:33 left in the game. Jacquizz Rodgers was able to convert a 3rd & 6 with an 8-yard pass from Ryan to put the Falcons in Lion territory. A 15-yard face mask on Eric Wright gave them additional yards on that play. But two consecutive false starts by Garrett Reynolds killed any momentum the drive had and the Falcons wound up being forced to punt. Bosher was able to pin the Lions at their own 13-yard line. Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for 19 yards on the first play of that drive. Two plays later, Stafford found Tony Schleffer for 17 yards, but it was negated by a holding penalty on right tackle Gosder Cherilus. Three plays later, it was 4th & 5. Pettigrew made a 7-yard grab, coupled with a 15-yard penalty on Kelvin Hayden put the ball in Falcon territory (their own 41) with 1:53 left int he game. But that was followed by two incompletions by Matt Stafford and on 3rd & 10 Stafford missed on a third pass to Scheffler. But Thoams DeCoud was flagged for pass interference. But upon a booth review, it was determined by that Corey Peters tipped the pass and the flag was picked up. The Lions now had a 4th & 10, and Stafford’s throw to Brandon Pettigrew was incomplete with Curtis Lofton draped over him. The Falcons got the ball back at their own 41-yard line with 1:30 left in the game. Two runs by Turner set up a 3rd & 4, which Jacquizz Rodgers converted with a 5-yard run. The Falcons knelt on the ensuing play to ensure the victory.
Next week the Falcons will be off due to a bye. They will have some welcome time to rest several players, including Julio Jones and Sam Baker, who both missed this game. Ryan will also be nursing an injury, and the Falcons will be hoping to hear some good news about fullback Ovie Mughelli who left today’s game with a knee injury. John Abraham, Garrett Reynolds, and Todd McClure also entered today’s game with questionable statuses, and an extra week to heal should only help. Following the bye, the Falcons will travel to Indianapolis to square off against the Colts. Their last matchup against the Colts came in 2007, a 31-13 loss at home. The Falcons are in fact, 1-13 all-time against the Colts. Although it should be noted that most of their losses (7) came during the Johnny Unitas-Baltimore Colts era in the 1960s. Their lone win came in December 1998, a 28-21 victory at home. They have not traveled to Indianapolis since a 38-7 thrashing in 2003. The Colts are winless at home this year (0-3). The Falcons are 2-1 under Mike Smith following the bye, their only loss coming on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008. Under Smith, the Falcons are also 9-3 against AFC teams, including a 4-2 mark on the road.