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Falcons vs. Lions recap: Atlanta holds on for a wild road win in Detroit

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The Atlanta Falcons are now 3-0, but it didn’t come without fireworks and dramatic moments.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons were expected to win this one, and they did. The rest is relatively unimportant given that fact, all told, but it’s still helpful to understand how the Falcons got a win by a narrow margin of 30-26. The story is not a neat and clean one.

At first glance, the Falcons walked away from a game they could have easily lost by a score of 30-26, putting them at 3-0 and positioning them extremely well for the next few weeks. Dig a little deeper, though, and you see things that are both worth celebrating and worth feeling wary about.

Let’s start with the celebration. Matt Ryan threw one pick six and two other picks that were mishandled by receivers, and yet the Lions only scored 26 total points. That means the Falcons limited a very efficient Lions offense to just 19 points and one touchdown, and could have possibly held them to less if not for those interceptions. The offense also managed 30 points despite only one sack and zero turnovers from the defense, and despite the aforementioned three picks. When you put it in its proper context, and give Detroit its due as a worthy opponent, that was a pretty impressive performance.

Of course, you do have to feel a little wary of the fact that Atlanta has now needed goal line stands—and an overturned call—to hold on to two of their wins. They got nailed with some ticky tacks penalties along the way, but so did Detroit, and you can quibble with that final reversal as a by-the-book but ultimately game-sealing call. The fact that they got relatively little pressure against a depleted offensive line should engender some worry, even with Vic Beasley out, and that they committed so many penalties should still cause some concern. As we saw last year, though, neither of those things need to be fatal, and the Falcons have given themselves a cushion with the Saints, Buccaneers, and Panthers all sporting at least one loss.

Atlanta ultimately made this one interesting—hell, downright terrifying—because of the turnovers. I had worried that the Falcons would turn the ball over once or twice, but I never imagined there would be three interceptions, thanks to fine play from Detroit and some dropped passes. The fact that they once again survived it is a testament to their toughness as a team, and sure, a sprinkle of luck. Their 3-0 start gives them a little bit of breathing room as they work on the obvious kinks, and the early bye week should ensure they get the likes of Beasley, Ryan Schraeder, and Courtney Upshaw healthy for the toughest portions of their schedule.

On to the full recap, as always.

The Good

  • Despite some shakiness early, Matt Ryan was predictably dealing, taking the occasional shot downfield and connecting with his receivers all over the field. His numbers ultimately wound up looking distinctly less-than-stellar, but that is informed heavily by two interceptions that can largely be pinned on his receivers and three or four missed throws that were helped along by Detroit pressure. He was pretty good again aside from a few errant throwsrant throws, though we’ll need to reckon with the picks a little later. He absolutely needs to show more comfort in the pocket, even if he's squeezed.
  • Atlanta mysteriously got away a bit from Devonta Freeman in the second and early third quarters, and he showed why that is a mistake late in the third with the game tied, as he rumbled for 35 yards on just three carries against a totally overmatched Detroit defense. He finished the game with 21 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown—plus three receptions for 32 yards—and it’s fair to wonder if the Falcons should have fed him even more than they did, given how successful he was. His workload today should be his workload going forward so long as he can handle it
  • The Lions struggled mightily to contain Tevin Coleman, whose speed makes him a nightmare for slow-footed linebackers. He wound up with 46 yards on just six carries and an additional 43 yards on three receptions, and he definitely could have used another touch or two as the Falcons struggled to salt this one away.
  • Pretty pedestrian day for Julio Jones, who had seven receptions for 91 yards. Nobody makes terrific numbers seem more ho-hum than the world’s greatest receiver.
  • Mohamed Sanu is on his way to his best NFL season ever, and it’s not on pace to be particularly close. On the very first drive, he reeled in three catches, including a four yard touchdown. He finished the day with a relatively quiet 4 receptions for 28 yards, but despite his second half disappearence, he’s one of the team’s best targets. That drop was such a rare thing for him that you have to chalk it up as a fluke.
  • Taylor Gabriel has been quiet this year, but he came through when the Falcons needed him, reeling in a 40 yard touchdown catch against Detroit’s overmatched secondary when the game was tied in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 5 catches for 79 yards and that score, by far his best output of the young season.
  • The Falcons knew they’d need to keep Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing game from bludgeoning them to death with short passes, and they did a nice job of limiting yards after the catch.
  • You kind of knew Takkarist McKinley would get his first sack with some extended playing time, and sure enough, he took down Matthew Stafford in the third quarter. The sky’s the limit for the 2017 first round pick.
  • Matt Bryant is, and I am not exaggerating, one of the league’s most impressive kickers. Like, ever. He hit a 48 yarder with not much time remaining in the first half and continues to kick at an impossibly high level.
  • The coordinators continue to do fine work. You can't put the penalties and picks on Steve Sarkisian, and you can't put penalties on Marquand Manuel. If the Falcons play a clean game, they probably win this by two touchdowns.

The Ugly

  • You saw the pressure on Matt Ryan, especially early, as he took two sacks in the first half and airmailed a couple of throws. Ty Sambrailo was a major problem in pass protection early and Ryan wasn’t as steady on his feet as he perhaps should’ve been, but then, I wasn’t expecting a clean game in that regard with the injury to Ryan Schraeder. Ty Sambrailo did eventually settle in a bit.
  • That Matt Ryan pick six was just a great play by Detroit, but I still hate seeing a good streak come to an end. Sadness. The subsequent two picks came on a hot Ryan throw Tevin Coleman couldn't snag and Mohed Sanu's horrendous and uncharacteristic drop. That’s the hallmark of a weird Ryan game, when he can play well for much of the game and still throw some costly mistakes that put the game into question, but you can only pin 1.5 of these right on him.
  • If you’ve ever felt like perhaps Vic Beasley’s impact is a bit overrated, watch this game. The Falcons simply couldn’t get after Matthew Stafford for large chunks of the day, and it led to Detroit being able to make the passes it needed to make to keep moving the ball down the field.
  • The penalty flags came fast and furious in the first half, as Wes Schweitzer and Austin Hooper got hit with offsides and Deion Jones picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty. Schweitzer got a holding call late in the second quarter, as well, and now has one solid effort sandwiched by two shaky ones. He should have a pretty long leash, but he’ll need to get better.
  • As you know, I hate complaining about refs, because it doesn’t benefit anyone. That said, that fourth quarter missed pass interference on Julio Jones sure felt like it should have been a flag. I’m not sure Desmond Trufant should have gotten nailed with twin flags, though I’m also not thrilled he found himself in the position to get nailed for either. Of course, I imagine Lions fans feel a bit more aggrieved today.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Is it weird that I’m struggling to determine one after a win? Let’s go with Devonta Freeman, whose consistent excellence in this one helped Atlanta win.

One Takeaway

Even great football teams have bad weeks on the road, and even great football teams need a little luck to win sometimes.

Next Week

The Buffalo Bills, who offer a quality ground game and defense, and will be bringing both to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Check out Buffalo Rumblings for more.

FInal Word

Threeandzero.