This was the first road game for the Falcons, and thus a test even if the opponent wasn’t that great. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Detroit was up for the challenge, and a characteristically slow start by the Falcons quickly made the first half a frustrating one. A couple of major defensive lapses and a poor showing by the offense combined to make it 13-3 Detroit; Arthur Smith predicted to FOX’s Kristina Pink at halftime that the offense would be just fine in the second half.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t true, and Atlanta suffered their first loss and their first ugly loss of the season. A ground game that felt pretty much matchup-proof was quiet and under-utilized, a passing game with opportunity squandered its chances with poor Desmond Ridder passes, drops, and awful pass protection. The defense did its best, holding Detroit scoreless in the third quarter, but did eventually break down with too much work late to give the Lions a 17 point lead. Atlanta just looked outmatched and incapable throughout much of the afternoon on offense, with the defense having a (completely understandable) couple of rough drives to effectively seal things.
The Falcons have to be able to do more than this. You can—and many fans have—blamed Ridder for being indecisive and sloppy, and he unquestionably was throughout the day on Sunday. That’s a piece of the puzzle and a big one, depending on where you stand, but play calls that don’t give the Falcons a fighting chance to pick up major yardage, poor blocking, and drops also conspired to give this team no shot at putting a quality day together on offense. The problems run deeper than any one player or coach, something those big fourth quarters have helped mask, and because it’s early I expect the Falcons to focus on tweaks and stressing improvement rather than personnel changes. If that’s not enough against Jacksonville and the Falcons fall to 2-2, I have to assume bigger, more ominous conversations are on the table.
This can’t happen again if Atlanta is going to contend this year; they can’t have a useless offense and a good but not elite defense and win many games that way. Their ability to rebound against a talented Jaguars squad in London will tell us much about what’s ahead for the 2023 season; thank goodness they won their first two games before laying an egg like this.
On to the full drive-by-drive recap, if for some reason you want to re-live this one.
Mike Hughes took the opening kickoff for a short distance, and the Falcons started things off just past the 20. Bijan Robinson caught a quick pass from Desmond Ridder for seven yards, most of those coming thanks to his legs. Ridder went to throw under duress and it was tipped, which negated pass interference on Mack Hollins. Tyler Allgeier then got the bal quickly from Ridderl but couldn’t go anywhere, ending the opening drive. Punt.
Jared Goff had to throw it in the dirt on first down with the Falcons getting pressure, and on second down Troy Andersen got a quick run stop to bring up a third and long. On third down, Goff hit Sam LaPorta for a few yards, but the Falcons gang tackled him. Punt, and while Mike Hughes had a nice return, but a holding call on Dee Alford backed that up.
Allgeier picked up four by bullying his way through contact, and then Atlanta called a timeout because they had 12 men on the field. Ridder then ripped it downfield to Kyle Pitts, but it was thrown too far as Pitts appeared to be limping a tiny bit. The next play, though, he hit Drake London on the sideline for a 28 yard pickup. Ridder picked a couple of yards on a scramble, and then the Lions got pressure up the middle to sack him. He was sacked again on third down, losing a ton of yards, and the Falcons had to punt.
Goff hit LaPorta for a first down, and then Gibbs took it for a few yards before a cut block call on the Lions brought it back 15 yards. Then Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown to make up those 15 yards without much trouble, and then Goff found LaPorta again and he got a first down with a big push. Gibbs then ran into the line for no gain with a stop from Calais Campbell, and then another pass picked up a first down. Gibbs got a couple of yards on first down, but Gibbs found some room on second down to pick up another first. He was then stuffed for a one yard loss, and then Goff dropped back and hit LaPorta for a loss after Kaden Elliss took him down. On third down, a pass to Kalif Raymond picked up about six yards, and Detroit elected to try the field goal. 3-0 Lions.
Hughes let it go for a touchback. Bijan took an impressive carry for about 12 yards on first down, and then picked up two yards on first down. Then Ridder got Pitts (who thankfully was in the game) across the middle for a first down.
A toss to Robinson went nowhere, with Brian Branch blowing into the backfield to make the tackle for a loss. Another rocket to Pitts picked up another first down, and then Jonnu Smith made another catch for a first down. Allgeier got the ball and went nowhere thanks to a game defensive effort from the Detroit defense, and then a pass to Smith went nowhere as Detroit got pressure and made the tackle. Branch then broke up a pass intended for London, and the Falcons settled for a 48 yard field goal try that Younghoe Koo made look easy. 3-3.
Goff went very deep to Raymond right away, but it was just too far to connect. On second down, Timothy Horne helped stop Gibbs after two yards, setting up a 3rd and 8 where Goff hit St. Brown for a first down. What sure looked like an offensive pass interference wasn’t called on the play. A defensive holding call on David Onyemata on the next play gave the Lions another first down, but the starting right tackle for Detroit went down and was carted off the field. Somehow, the Falcons left LaPorta open way downfield and Goff hit him for a touchdown. 10-3 Lions.
Desmond Ridder couldn’t get Kyle Pitts on first down with a defender in the way, and then a run play to Bijan didn’t get much. Ridder tried for Pitts down the sideline under pressure, but tight coverage from Cam Sutton and a bit too much mustard on the ball made sure it fell incomplete. Punt.
Gibbs picked up seven yards on first down going to the sideline, and then a short pass to St. Brown went nowhere after Dee Alford and company arrived to make a nice tackle. A first down to Raymond followed, and then a three yard pass where Elliss crushed the receiver. Goff then found St. Brown again for a first down, and then Zonovan Knight picked up eight yards on a first down run. Raymond then caught a 22 yard laser from Goff to get inside the red zone, and a rolling Goff was tripped up by Bud Dupree for a gain of a few yards. Gibbs then went nowhere with David Onyemata getting a big stop before Goff threw it out of the back of the end zone, with Jessie Bates getting a call for illegal contact in the end zone and giving Detroit a first down. Bates followed that up by delivering a bit hit on Gibbs on first down, and a holding call on Penei Sewell backed Detroit up 10 yards. Gibbs then took off like a rocket for close to 10 yards, but Richie Grant was able to trip him up. Grant followed that up by taking St. Brown down as the low ball headed his way. Detroit converted the field goal try. 13-3 Lions.
Ridder tried to get away from pressure and slipped, with Aidan Hutchinson getting the sack by touching him when he was on the ground. Robinson then took a carry to pick up about three yards. Ridder then tried to hit Robinson for a catch and run, but Robinson dropped it. Punt, but a holding call on the return at least backed Detroit up. A 20 yard strike to a diving St. Brown kept the Lions moving. A pass to Craig Reynolds under duress from Grady Jarrett resulted in Goff doinking the ball off of Reynolds’ leg, with Jarrett blowing into the backfield again on the next play to force another bad throw. Another throw under pressure to LaPorta fell short, and the Lions had to punt. Great stand by the defense.
Ridder found Robinson, and this time it was a conversion, about eight yards and a quick step out of bounds. Another pass to Robinson over the middle forced Atlanta to take a timeout with six seconds left, leaving them little chance to do anything else. Ridder hit Jonnu Smith to pick up nine yards to the sideline, leaving a second left for Ridder to try for the end zone. He tried to get away from pressure, tripped, and was sacked by Jack Campbell to end the half.
Goff hit LaPorta for about seven yards, with Kaden Elliss throwing him down again. Gibbs got a couple yards on a quick pass before Troy Andersen brought him down, and on 3rd and 1, and Elliss stepped up and got the stop on a short run. Punt.
Bijan picked up about four yards on a first down carry, and then he got a first down and a horse collar tackle that added 15 yards on the play to move the team nearly to midfield. Allgeier then took it about five yards, and then caught a quick pass to go for a first down and then some. Branch got a tackle in the backfield on Allgeier on the next play, though, and the Falcons were working from 2nd and 13. Ridder found Pitts for about eight yards on the next play, and then Robinson took the carry and got maybe a yard. Koo missed the 47 yard field goal attempt.
Goff handed it off to Gibbs for four yards, and then Knight gained about a yard after Zach Harrison got the stop. Goff then got St. Brown for a first down and then some. On first down, Dupree hit Goff as he threw to ensure it was in the dirt, and then Elliss took down St. Brown after a few yards, but it came back owing to a holding call on Detroit. St. Brown then dropped the pass, and then a surprise Gibbs carry up the middle picked up about 13. Still a punt for Detroit, and the Falcons got it back inside their own 20.
On first down, Ridder elected to run it when he didn’t find any appealing looks, and picked up just a yard. On second down, Ridder threw a ball nowhere near KhaDarel Hodge, but that was owing to a pass interference call on Detroit cornerback Jerry Jacobs. Robinson took it a couple of yards. and then threw it to Jonnu Smith over the middle, where it went off his fingertips and then Smith took a big hit. On the next play, he found Mack Hollins, but the defender broke it up and forced the incompletion. Punt again.
Knight was brought down by Tre Flowers after a couple of yards, but a holding call backed Detroit up again. LaPorta made the catch for about seven yards, but Terrell was there to make the tackle. St. Brown was brought down by Dee Alford after about six yards, and then Goff hucked it way over LaPorta’s head under pressure from Onyemata. Punt.
Ridder sat back looking for an open man and Charles Harris got him, picking up Detroit’s fifth sack of the game. On the next play, the pass was tipped and nearly intercepted, and then Riddder just missed Hollins down the sideline on the sideline. Punt, and thankfully there was a penalty that backed Detroit up.
On first down, Gibbs was taken down quickly by Campbell. LaPorta nearly caught it, tipped it in the air, and Gibbs and Flowers collided trying to catch it, but it did fall to the turf. On the next play, Goff launched one that went a little errant and right into the waiting hands of Jessie Bates, who grabbed his third interception of the season to end the quarter.
Allgeier kicked things off for about four yards, fighting through a ton of contact to get it, and then he picked up another two yards on his subsequent carry. On third down, Ridder’s throw was low to London, and it bounced off his hands and to the turf. They went for it on fourth down and Ridder’s throw was high and behind London. Turnover on downs.
St. Brown caught it and took it for a first down to kick things off for Detroit, followed by a four yard pickup and then a first down run for Gibbs. He then got running room and took it a long way, setting the Lions up for a first and goal. He was brought down quickly by a game effort from A.J. Terrell and others, and then a pass to Josh Reynolds brought Detroit down to the two yard line. Then Goff kept it on a fake handoff and got the touchdown. 20-3 Lions.
The Falcons got nothing on first down and less than nothing on a swing pass to Kyle Pitts, setting up yet another third and long. Finally, Ridder got one 23 yards downfield to Hollins to get the Falcons moving. Ridder then got Pitts for about five yards, and his next pass to Robinson wasn’t close. Ridder then threw it to Hollins on the sideline and missed, but it was in service of getting a pass interference call on Detroit. Robinson got a yard or two on first down, and then a first down to MyCole Pruitt. Allgeier then took the handoff for a first down, and then Ridder was sacked by Aidan Hutchinson on the next play, but then found Pitts to get back that yardage and a little more. Hodge then grabbed a first down pass and then some, fighting through contact. Ridder’s pass to London fell incomplete after he stumbled, and then a delay of game backed Atlanta up. Ridder then threw a quick pass to London, setting up a third and goal and Pitts picked up another five yards. Koo hit the short field goal try. 20-6 Lions.
Reynolds had a quality run on first down to pick eight yards, and then Detroit wore the clock down until they called a timeout to avoid a penalty. A first down run by Reynolds was brought back by a pair of offsetting penalties. Reynolds then got the first down again. The next two plays went nowhere, with Grady Jarrett getting a nice run stop on second down. The Lions tried to be cute with a St. Brown run and it went nowhere, setting up the Lions to punt. Atlanta had used all of their timeouts.
Ridder threw a very quick pass to Robinson, who got drilled by Brian Branch. It was a 15 yard penalty on Branch to give Atlanta some space to move. Ridder then threw one that Tracy Walker nearly picked off, and on the next play Ridder fumbled and it was scooped up.
Detroit kneeled it out.