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Falcons vs. Lions: A look at the series history going into 2023

The Lions were really good at beating Atlanta until Matt Ryan came along

Atlanta Falcons Jamal Anderson... SetNumber: X61860 TK2 R2 F27

It’s a clash between two of the most snake-bitten franchises in NFL history. The Falcons and Lions meet during a point where both seem to be on the upswing after a period of consistent losing for both. I don’t think it would really shock anyone if both the Lions and the Falcons won their respective divisions, something that has never happened in the same season.

Following their inception in 1966, Atlanta faced Detroit every single year through 1980 with the exception of the 1970 and 1974 season. In that time, the Lions absolutely ravaged the newly formed NFL franchise, winning the first nine matchups in that first decade.

The Falcons got it together a little bit after Steve Bartkowski started coming into his own, winning four of five between 1977 and 1983, before Detroit ripped off another 10 wins in the following 12 matchups through 1997.

The Falcons never really had any sustained success against Detroit until the Matt Ryan era began, in 2008. That era actually directly started against the Lions with a 62-yard touchdown on Matt’s first career pass in Week 1 of the 2008 season.

Ryan went on to lead the Birds to a 5-2 record against Detroit in his career, and so many of those games were incredibly memorable. In 2012, the Falcons won their 13th game of the year on a Saturday night in Detroit, but on that evening Calvin Johnson broke the single season receiving yards record. In a London matchup in 2014, the Falcons blew a 21-0 halftime lead to eventually lose 22-21 on a last second field goal during Mike Smith’s final season as coach.

More recently, these teams who have been so proficient in historic heartbreak traded heartbreaks against each other. In 2017, the Lions were one yard away from winning a big early season matchup but took a loss thanks to the 10-second runoff rule. In 2020, Todd Gurley scored when he shouldn’t have and the Lions went on an ensuing 75-yard drive to win the game with a last second touchdown.

The Lions currently lead the season series 25-14.

The last time

The Falcons were technically still alive in the NFC Playoff picture, despite being 6-8, going into a Week 16 matchup the day after Christmas against a 2-11-1 Lions team in the midst of a miserable season.

Thanks to some injuries at the quarterback position, Detroit was trotting Tim Boyle out there against Matt Ryan, who (while we didn’t know it at the time) was playing in his second-to-last home game as a Falcon in his career.

These teams were deadlocked at 10-10 going into the half as it was a big day for two really great pass catching rookies — Kyle Pitts went over 100 yards for Atlanta en route to a Pro Bowl season and a 1,000-yard campaign, while Detroit’s Amon-Ra St. Brown was in the midst of four straight 90-yard games to end his rookie season, where he caught a touchdown in each one.

It remained neck and neck for most of the second half, and the game deciding score came when Matt Ryan connected with Hayden Hurst on a 12-yard strike early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven.

The Lions went on an ensuing 10-minute where they ended up kicking a field goal instead of going for it on 4th-and-5 from inside the 10, but Russell Gage justified that by fumbling the ball back to them three plays later. Detroit worked their way back inside the 10 before Foye Oluokun secured the game sealing interception at the 1 to close out a comedy of errors late in the fourth.

That ended up being the last Falcons win of that season as they finished 7-10. Detroit finished 3-13-1, and neither of these teams has tasted the postseason since 2017.