The Atlanta Falcons went into this game favored and proceeded to play as though they’d win, albeit narrowly, for much of the game. With the clock winding down, though, the costly mistakes they had made caught up with them, and ultimately Atlanta probably should have dropped their first game of 2017. And yet, thanks to a reversed touchdown call and a ten second runoff, they didn’t.
Atlanta did almost everything you could possibly imagine to squander this one, including three interceptions (two of them on receivers), multiple penalties, and missed opportunities both to score and to stop the Lions. They likely would have won handily if not for the turnovers, but unfortunately, those exist. So does the weak Desmond Trufant penalty on a Robert Alford interception, for that matter.
Atlanta will have to come out of this understanding that they’ve gotten lucky to win twice in three games thus far, and make the necessary improvements. But we’d rather be 3-0 and lucky than 2-1 and unlucky.
Here’s our quarter-by-quarter breakdown.
The Falcons got moving immediately, with Matt Ryan connecting with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu (twice) to get the Falcons close, then connecting with Taylor Gabriel to put them inside the 10 yard line. A Matt Ryan sack, a nice Devonta Freeman catch, and a contested Mohamed Sanu touchdown grab later, the Falcons were on the board first. That was stunningly simple.
Falcons 7 - Lions 0
That put the ball in Detroit’s hands. The Lions found some early success throwing short passes, but they were backed up by a killer T.J. Lang unnecessary roughness penalty and the Lions couldn’t convert (or even come close) on third down, forcing a punt.
Atlanta got a nice run and a nice catch from Tevin Coleman on the subsequent drive, plus a costly (for Detroit) pass interference call. Devonta Freeman’s 12 yard run into the red zone ended the first quarter.
The Falcons agonizingly got all the way to the two yard line before Matt Ryan got sacked for the second time and backed up, leaving Matt Bryant to hit a 36 yard field goal. That still left Atlanta up two scores, thankfully.
Falcons 10 - Lions 0
The Lions got an unnecessary roughness penalty courtesy of Deion Jones (it was borderline, but whatever) and the Falcons looked like they might be back on their heels. Fortunately, the Lions stalled out again on third down, and Matt Prater hit a 55 yarder to close the gap to a touchdown. Well, the field goal wasn’t really fortunate, but it’s better than a touchdown.
Falcons 10 - Lions 3
The Falcons turned right around and annihilated an overmatched Lions defense, marching down the field and capping things off with a one yard Devonta Freeman touchdown plunge. It looked a little bit like a rout was coming, specifically because the Detroit defense couldn’t A) cover anyone and B) stop the run.
Falcons 17 - Lions 3
The Lions offense finally clanked to life on this drive, with Detroit moving down the field fairly effortlessly...up to a point. The Falcons once again made a nice stop and Matthew Stafford missed a short pass on third down, and Matt Prater hit a 40 yarder to close the gap. A little bit.
Falcons 17 - Lions 6
Then things went awry. Matt Ryan threw a pick six, his first interception in over half a season, and the Lions closed the gap mightily.
Falcons 17 - Lions 13
The Falcons gamely drove down the field from there, and while they ultimately couldn’t score the touchdown we wanted them to, they were able to ensure they ended the half up seven points thanks to a 48 yard Matt Bryant field goal.
Falcons 20 - Lions 13
The Lions took a couple of shots, but couldn’t get it done. That left the Falcons up by a touchdown heading into the second half.
The Falcons defense came out ready to rumble, easily controlling the line of scrimmage and sacking Stafford on third-and-11. Detroit could not get it moving running or throwing. With another Andre Roberts revenge punt return, the Falcons have great field position. Taylor Gabriel got the ball in space on third down, but just couldn’t make a play and comes up short.
Gabriel might be having a down year, but Matt Bryant is money every year.
Falcons 23 - Lions 13
The Detroit Lions starting getting into a rhythm with some short passing, screens, and productive runs. The first big play was a 20 yard pass to T.J Jones, who got a few steps on Robert Alford. Lions quickly move to the red zone. Falcons looked completely unprepared for the quick striking offense. Golden Tate scored on a cross, with only Deion Jones even in the area. Suddenly, a football game broke out.
Falcons 23 - Lions 20
The Falcons start with a short return and a false start on Ty Sambrailo. Backed up near their own 8 yard line on 1st-and-15, the Falcons were bailed out by a nice catch in the slot by Julio, and a nice sideline catch by Gabriel. The Falcons went to quick snap it to make sure the catch wasn’t turned over, Ryan got stuck in traffic, and Tevin Coleman bobbles a pass right to Darius Slay.
Detroit starts on the 21st, but is pushed back thanks to a Takk McKinley sack. It gets close and ugly, but the defense stands tall and forces a field goal.
Falcons 23 - Lions 23
Fans are starting to get worried until Devonta Freeman PUTS THE ENTIRE TEAM ON HIS BACK. He gets the ball three times, and torches the Detroit defense for 35 yards.
Ryan expertly sells a play-action pass, flips the other way, and hits Taylor Gabriel in space on a screen. The Lions didn’t have a choice. 40 yard touchdown.
Falcons 30 - Lions 23
The Lions need to bounce back in a big way. They have only scored a touchdown once on offense when having to drive the entire field. Golden Tate helps on third down with a good catch on an even better throw. Ameer Abdullah helped move the football, but the drive stalls when a Stafford pass gets tipped. Prater kicks a 57 yard field goal. That is not a misprint.
Falcons 30 - Lions 26
The Falcons offense feels so balanced. Atlanta hits Julio Jones then Tevin Coleman back-to-back, both for first downs. The offensive line is holding up a bit better down the stretch. Freeman comes in and just runs through the entire defense on 3rd-and-one for 18 yards. The offense is so good, you almost feel a little embarrassed.
Enter: Mohamed Sanu. The football goes between both of Sanu’s hands, but he turns his head too soon to look for the end zone. It bobbles right to Darius Slay who runs it back to the 45.
Of all things... the defense comes through? The Falcons pressure and hold the Lions on 3rd-and-14. Atlanta gets the ball back with the lead... and in the blink of an eye, Atlanta punts. Lions get the football back with just over 3 minutes left. Adrian Clayborn pulls the corner and hits Stafford during a first down pass. Eric Ebron drops the next pass, and De’Vondre Campbell hits him with a solid tackle anyways. Deep pass to Golden Tate gets tipped by Brian Poole, and the Lions are punting in literally 14 seconds of game time.
Andre Roberts signals a fair catch (a few seconds earlier than you would expect), and gets tackled anyways. After a penalty flag, Atlanta starts on their 37 yard line. The Falcons run the ball, toss a screen to Sanu, then a pass to Julio. The pass to Julio was short. He landed oddly on his forearm after a summersault over the defender and was slow to get up. 4th-and-2 and the Falcons are punting back to Detroit.
Golden Tate goes up for a great grab, and was clearly injured on the way down. The Lions can’t substitute him before the two-minute warning. The Lions have zero timeouts left. You know games get close when you start looking at timeouts. T.J. Jones takes a huge bit from Ricardo Allen, while Ricky is clearly shaken up after the hit. Deion Jones then gives up a chunk play to Theo Riddick, with the Lions on Atlanta’s 29 yard line.
Momentum feels like it has gone the wrong way. A Lions hold helps out Atlanta, thanks to Grady Jarrett. Stafford airs it out to Marvin Jones Jr., who pushes off on Trufant. It is a weak call, and pushes Detroit back to the 38th yard line. Brian Poole almost picks off the pass on 1st-and-30. Ricardo Allen picks off the next pass, only for the refs to throw a flag on Trufant for holding. A few plays later, Trufant is flagged AGAIN.
Lions get a shot at the goal line, and a pass to Golden Tate is first ruled a touchdown. After a second look, Tate was JUST SHORT. The overturn creates a 10 second runoff because the Lions have no more timeouts, ending the game. A half a yard settles this game. This ends as weird as the last Lions game under the Mike Smith era. Falcons remain undefeated.