The Falcons secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 31-18 victory on the road against the Detroit Lions. The Falcons record now stands at 13-2 and they will have home-field throughout the playoffs. The Falcons built an early lead against the Lions, and while the Lions made things interesting in the third quarter, the Falcons were able to pull away for the win.
Matt Ryan got off to a strong start, completing his first 12 passes of the night. He finished the game 25 of 32 for 279 yards and 4 touchdowns. Those scores tie him with Steve Bartkowski for the franchise record of 31 touchdown passes in a season, and also set a new career high for Ryan. On the ground, Michael Turner led rushers with 41 yards on 13 carries. Roddy White had a big game, catching 8 passes for 153 yards and 2 of Ryan’s touchdown passes. Julio Jones also had a good game with 7 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Michael Palmer caught Ryan’s other touchdown pass on his lone reception for a single yard. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try of 20 yards. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 41.8 yards with 2 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers returned a pair of kickoffs for an average of 24.5 yards, while Jason Snelling had a return of 9 yards. Dominique Franks had one punt return for 9 yards as well. For much of the night, the Falcons offense looked poised and efficient. They were able to convert 6 of 11 third down attempts, and also were able to get touchdowns on 2 of their 3 redzone trips.’
Defensively, the Falcons gave up a bunch of yards to the Lions who were playing from behind for most of the evening. They gave up 522 total yards to the Lions, including 443 in the air. But they also inhibited them on third downs, only allowing 5 of 14 attempts to be converted into first downs. They also forced three Lions turnovers. The team had little answer for league-leading receiver Calvin Johnson who caught 11 passes for 225 yards. Johnson was able to pass Jerry Rice on the evening, setting the new single season record for receiving yards in a season with 1892 yards. He also tied Rice for the fourth most receiving yards by an individual against the Falcons all-time. Dunta Robinson led the team with 10 tackles, as he and Samuel did their best to little avail to contain Johnson. John Abraham (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Thomas DeCoud (6 tackles); Akeem Dent (3 tackles); Chris Hope (7 tackles); Peria Jerry (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Robert McClain (5 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles); Corey Peters (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Asante Samuel (5 tackles, 1 interception); and Sean Weatherspoon (9 tackles) all had noteworthy games.
The game did not start well for the Lions, who were forced to burn a timeout before the second play from scrimmage. The Falcons defense stepped up on 3rd & 2, and DeCoud and Robinson converged to stuff Mikel Leshoure to force the Lions punt. The Falcons went to Michael Turner to start the game, with a run for no gain on their first play from scrimmage. Then Ryan connected on two passes to Turner for a combined 13 yards. Two plays later, Ryan hit Julio Jones, who was stopped two yards shy of the first down marker on 3rd & 9 to force Matt Bosher’s first punt of the evening. With the Lions backed up at their own 10-yard line, the Falcons defense stepped up big once more. An offsides penalty on DeCoud gave the Lions a favorable 3rd & 2, which they converted by hitting Calvin Johnson on a 49-yard crossing route. That put the Lions in Falcon territory, but on the next play Corey Peters was able to strip Leshoure, and Peria Jerry recovered at the Falcon 31-yard line. Ryan connected with White on first down for a 16-yard gain over the middle. Three plays later, Ryan found White deep down the right sideline for a 44-yard scoring strike to put the Falcons on the board first 9 minutes into the game. The next Lions offensive series got off to a promising start with two runs by Stefan Logan (13 yards) and Mike Thomas (8 yards). On offsides on Peria Jerry on the next play would give the Lions a free play, which Stafford scrambled to find Johnson for an 18-yard gain along the sideline. Three plays later, the Lions would convert on a Brian Robiskie catch on 3rd & 3 to put them at the Falcon 20yard line. But on 3rd & 10 from that distance, Stafford’s check down to Kevin Smith was stopped after a 4-yard gain by Robinson to force a Jason Hanson field goal from 34 yards. The kick attempt was good, and the Lions had now cut the Falcons lead to 7-3 with 13 seconds left in the first quarter. On the fourth play of the second quarter, Tyson Clabo was called for a holding penalty which pushed the Falcons back from midfield. Ryan found White again to convert on 3rd & 7 to get the ball into Lion territory three plays later. Then after a 5-yard completion to Jones on the next play, Ryan connected with White on a quick screen. Thanks to a good block by Tony Gonzalez and a devastating cut block by Sam Baker, White sprinted untouched 39 yards down the left sideline for his second score of the game to give the Falcons a 14-3 lead with 10 minutes left in the half. The next Detroi offensive series was stopped after five plays thanks to pressure up the middle by Jonathan Babineaux on a stunt to force an errant Stafford pass on third down. The Falcons responded with a three-and-out, after Ndamukong Suh and Lawrence Jackson converged to sack Ryan. On the third play of the next Lions series, John Abraham was able to strip Johnson, and the ball was recovered by Robert McClain, who returned it 15 yards to give the Falcons the ball at Detroit’s 40-yard line with 4 minutes left in the half. After two Turner runs for a combined 12 yards, the Falcons attempted a deep shot to Julio Jones on a double move. The ball fell incomplete, marking the first pass of the night that was not caught for Ryan. Two plays later, Rodgers ran hard after a checkdown catch for an 11-yard gain to convert on 3rd & long and put the ball in the redzone at the two-minute warning. After a 1-yard run by Turner, Ryan found Jones in the back of the endzone on a 16-yard pass. Jones made an excellent fingertip catch and was able to drag both feet before stepping out of bounds to get the touchdown catch. That gave the Falcons an 18-point lead with little over a minute left to play in the first half. But the Lions were able to move the ball downfield on their ensuing drive in the two-minute drill thanks in large part to a 22-yard reception by Johnson and a pair of Kris Durham receptions for a combined 32 yards. Durham’s second catch for 18 yards put the ball at the Falcons 20 with 7 seconds left. The Lions opted to settle for the points, as Hanson made his second kick from 38 yards to cut the Falcons lead to two scores, 21-6 with 2 seconds remaining. Jason Snelling fielded the squib kick as the clock ran out on the first half.
The Falcons started the opening drive of the second half with a three-and-out. Pressure on Ryan from a free blitzer off the edge forced an errant pass to White on 3rd & 11 to force another Bosher punt. The Lions started with favorable field position after a 40-yard punt by Bosher that started their next drive at their own 40. On the second play of the ensuing Lions series, John Abraham was able to bottle up Mikel Leshoure for a 1-yard gain. But on the following play, he was called for the offsides penalty, which Leshoure then took advantage of by getting 9 yards on his next carry to give the Lions a first down. Three plays later, Johnson beat Robinson on a quick slant to convert on 3rd & 2 for 14 yards to get down to the Falcons 11-yard line. Stefan Logan would catch a 4-yard pass on 3rd & 4 three plays later to set up the Lions for 1st & goal at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Leshoure ran up the middle untouched for the first Lions touchdown of the evening. That cut the Falcons lead to 8 points with 7 minutes left in the third quarter. The Falcons came out firing on their next series, with Ryan missing on the first play on a deep shot to Jones, as the safety was able to break up the pass. Four plays later, Ryan would attempt again to go deep to Jones, but the pass was off the mark and the Falcons were forced to punt again. The Lions took over at their own 15-yard line, and on the fifth play of the series, Stafford found Johnson again for a 26-yard gain to convert on 3rd & 4. Two plays later, he found Johnson again for 21 yards, this time beating double coverage. On the final play of the third quarter, Leshoure would make a couple of Falcons defenders miss on an 11-yard gain on a flat pass. The Lions would begin the fourth quarter with 1st & Goal at the Falcon 6-yard line. Good coverage would lead Stafford to throw the ball away on the first play of the fourth quarter. Leshoure would be bottled up by Sean Weatherspoon for a 2-yard gain on the next play. The Lions tried a QB draw with Stafford up the middle, but Corey Peters would be able to make the stop at the 2-yard line, shy of the goalline. The Lions would opt for the points instead of going for six, and Hanson connected on his third field goal of the night from 20 yards out. The Falcons would take full advantage of the Lions inability to get six points in the redzone, by embarking on an 11-play, 78-yard scoring drive to end their offensive funk. The drive started with a 6-yard run up the middle by Turner. After a Falcon timeout, Tony Gonzalez would set the first pass of the evening thrown his way, which would be incomplete on a high throw. But Ryan would prevent the three-and-out on the next play, throwing off his back foot for a 15-yard gain to White along the sideline. Ryan would connect with Jones on two consecutive passes for a combined 26 yards, before an end-around for -7 yards backed up the Falcon on first down. But on 2nd & 17, Ryan would scramble up the middle for a 16-yard gain to set up a 3rd & 1 at the Lions 22-yard line. Gonzalez would make his first catch of the evening on the ensuing play with a 9-yard catch and run on the Ryan rollout. Turner would be bottled up for -2 yards on a toss sweep to the left side on the next play. But Ryan would throw a dart to White over the middle for 14 yards to get the ball down to the 1-yard line. Ryan would locate a wide open Michael Palmer on a the throwback pass for the 1-yard score. That gave the Falcons a 28-16 lead with 7 minutes left in the game. The Lions would come back and Stafford would force a throw deep downfield to Johnson, which Asante Samuel stepped in front of for an interception at the Lions 42-yard line. Turner ran off the right side for a 22-yard gain. Three plays later, Julio Jones would beat Jonte Green on a comeback for 10 yards to convert on 3rd & 6. That gave the Falcons a 1st & Goal opportunity at the Lions 6-yard line. Rodgers would run twice for a combined 4 yards, but Ryan would overthrow White on the shallow cross on 3rd down. Matt Bryant would hit on a 20-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 31-16 lead with 3 minutes left in the game. On the opening play of the next Lions series, Stafford found JOhnson on a crossing pattern for a 26-yard gain. That catch broke the single season record for Johnson. Stafford would hit Tony Scheffler for a 14-yard gain on 4th & 10 four plays later to keep the Lions drive alive. That would put the ball in Falcon territory. Stafford would complete 3 of his next 4 passes for 37 yards to get the ball down to the Falcons 2-yard line. The Falcons would blitz on the next two plays, and Dunta Robinson would break up a quick slant to Durham followed by Robert McClain breaking up an underthrown pass to Johnson in the endzone. On 4th & 1 from the 2, Stafford would miss Will Heller over the middle and the Falcons took over with 1:28 at their own 2-yard line. But Suh would blow up Peter Konz and wrap up Turner in the backfield for the safety, making the score 31-18. After Bosher’s quick kick, Stefan Logan inexplicably kneeled at the Lions 4-yard line, giving them very unfavorable field position. Stafford would drop back to pass on the Lions final twelve plays, only able to get the ball to midfield before time expired to give Atlanta the win.
The Falcons will close out the season next week at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Falcons beat the Bucs 24-23 in a Week 12 matchup earlier this season. The Falcons are undefeated at home under Mike Smith against the Bucs, posting a 4-game win streak against them in the Georgia Dome. In fact, under Smith the Falcons are 7-2 against Tampa Bay. The Bucs have lost two straight road games, sporting a 3-4 record this season.