By Michael Downes
That’s a tough way to lose. Whether you are a fan of the Lions or not, that is just a brutal way to drop a game.
The Detroit Lions played a great game, but the Atlanta Falcons were better, even though they turned the ball over three times. After all the late-game heroics by quarterback Matthew Stafford in the past, Sunday’s task proved to be too much. After an overturned touchdown and a controversial 10 second runoff, the Lions were unable to pull out the win and lost to the Falcons, 30-26.
Atlanta started hot, dicing up the Lions defense on its first two drives. On the first, the Falcons marched down the field 75 yards and capped the possession off with a 4-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu. The Falcons’ second time with the ball began at their own 29-yard line and finished with a 36-yard field goal.
Lions found themselves in a quick 10-0 hole, but were to put up three points on a Matt Prater 55-yard field goal, tying the record for most consecutive field goals made from 50-plus.
The Falcons were unfazed. After a good return on the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons used a balanced offense to storm down the field. Freeman had six carries for 28 yards on the drive and found the endzone from one yard out.
The Lions, now down 14 points, were able to muster a field goal on the following drive. Atlanta was given the ball back with 1:50 to go in the second quarter and in a great position to put the game away, but the Lions defense had other plans.
On a pass intended for Julio Jones, Lions safety Glover Quin beautifully jumped the route and plucked the ball right out of the air. Quin coasted his way to the endzone for a 37-yard pick-six on Matt Ryan’s first interception of the season.
After Atlanta’s kicker Matt Bryant hit a 48-yard field goal, the Lions went into the half losing 20-13.
The Lions started with the ball to begin the second half and did nothing with it. Atlanta’s first drive of the third quarter ended with a Bryant 47-yarder.
Stafford and the Lions were finally able to put together a great drive on their second possession of the half. In 12 plays the Lions traveled 75 yards, and Stafford found Golden Tate for an 11-yard touchdown.
The next drive for Atlanta ended in another interception. This time it was Lions cornerback Darius Slay snatching the ball off a tipped pass.
The Lions had another drive end with a field goal, pulling them to a 23-23 tie going into the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the final quarter, Ryan threw a quick screen to receiver Taylor Gabriel, who zig-zagged his way to a 40-yard touchdown.
This deficit was not unfamiliar territory for the Lions. Stafford had eight fourth quarter comebacks last season, so Stafford was cool, calm and collected as he worked his way down the field.
The Lions went three and out and topped off another drive with a field goal on their next possession.
Atlanta followed up the Lions’ field goal with Ryan’s third and final interception of the day. That put the Lions in a great position to take the lead, but instead Detroit suffered another three and out.
After a couple of punts, the Lions had the ball with 2:20 to go and 89 yards in front of them. After a second-and-30, a nullified interception and a few questionable calls, the Lions were on the one-yard line with 19 seconds to go.
With 12 seconds on the clock, Stafford found Golden Tate across the middle, who laid out and stretched the ball across the goal line with eight seconds left. Once again, Stafford led the Lions to a fourth quarter comeback, and the Lions…
Turns out, Tate’s knee hit the ground as the ball was about three centimeters away from the endzone. Since the referees took an official timeout to review, there would be a 10 second runoff on the clock. With no timeouts remaining, the Lions had no option but to watch the clock hit zero.
Lions lose, 30-26.
Despite the loss, the Lions proved that they are the real deal. With a few bumps in the road in the fourth quarter, Detroit was able to move the ball effectively (324 yards) against a good defense. The run game is still invisible (71 yards), as expected, and won’t improve anytime soon, but it’s good enough for the team to contend.
Honestly, the offense is the weakest part of this team. Special teams, outside of a botched punt Week 1, has been outstanding. Prater is in a groove and has been nothing short of automatic, especially from 50-plus. Once punter Sam Martin returns from his injury, the Lions special teams might be the best in the league.
The real star is the defense. The defense has forced an outlandish amount of turnovers. With seven interceptions and three forced fumbles, the Lions are sitting at a plus-six turnover ratio, the best in the league..
Field goals are great. Scoring points is the best way to end a drive, but the Lions’ inability to get into the endzone really hampered them. Four times the Lions’ drives stalled out, twice within Atlanta’s 25-yard-line.
Detroit needs to start taking advantage of good field position and cap off drives with seven points. Great teams do that, and until the Lions make that step they will fall short of that mark.
This was a brutal loss, but the Lions need to move forward. Next up is the Minnesota Vikings, a division game, in Week 4.