After the Falcons tied the Lions at 7-apiece early in the first quarter, they were pretty much in control of this game on Sunday. In fact, trailing 16-14 with a first-and-10 on the Lions 10-yard line, Atlanta had a chance to simply run the clock down with 1:12 in the fourth quarter – Detroit had no more timeouts – and kick a game-sealing field goal.
Instead, Atlanta lost in the final seconds, 23-22, and fell to 1-6.
The Falcons did a lot of good things, including being in position to beat the Lions, and a lot of not-so-good things. Here are the four I liked and disliked the most.
Four things I liked
1. Stopping the Lions on fourth down. With the game tied at 7-all, it looked like the Lions were about to go up 14-7 with 6:21 to go in the second quarter. Instead, the Falcons made a huge stop on fourth-and-2 on the Falcons 2-yard line.
Dante Fowler flew into the Lions backfield and absolutely stuck Adrian Peterson in his tracks.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Fowler made a critical stop down near the goal line – and watching the Falcons reaction on the field and sideline, it felt like the play gave the team a huge emotional lift, too.
I'll take it a step further. It really felt like the tide turned in the Falcons' favor on that play. And here's why …
2. Long, clock-eating scoring drives. The Falcons had three scoring drives that of 98, 89 and 76 yards. They should have had one more of 81 yards, but I'll get into that with dislikes below.
After denying the Lions on fourth down (above), the Falcons marched virtually the entire length of the field and capped it with a 4-yard Matt Ryan-to-Calvin Ridley touchdown pass to go up 14-7. As demoralizing as it must have felt for the Lions offense to be stopped 2 yards short of the goal line, it had to be as equally crushing for the Lions defense to be pushed down the field like that.
That 14-play drive – which ate 5:48 off the game clock – felt like a huge momentum swing in the game, too.
Before that drive, the Falcons tied the game on a 1-yard run by Gurley that capped a 13-play, 89-yard drive that also consumed 5:48 of game clock.
The Falcons' final scoring drive – which gave them a 22-16 lead thanks to a two-point conversion following Gurley's 10-yard run with 1:12 left – capped a nine-play, 76-yard drive. However, it only took 2:12 off the clock … and should have taken at least another minute (more on that below).
3. Aggressive blitz calls on defense. Matthew Stafford was sacked twice on the same drive and I loved both calls to bring pressure up the middle against the Lions veteran quarterback.
After the Lions Matt Prater booted a 50-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half to cut into the Falcons' lead and make it 14-10, Detroit opened the third quarter with possession and in position to regain the lead.
On its first two plays, Detroit came out gained 18 yards, including a 16-yard catch by Marvin Jones. On the very next play, a first-and-10 at the Lions 32, the Falcons sent Keanu Neal on a blitz right up the middle. Neal took Stafford down for a 9-yard loss.
Eight plays later on a critical third-and-5 play on the Falcons 24-yard line, the Falcons brought pressure again up the middle, this time disguising a blitz be Deion Jones. Stafford once gain was thrown for a 9-yard loss, almost forcing the Lions out of field goal range.
Prater ended up booting a not-so-easy 51-yard field goal to make it a 14-13 game.
Loved those calls and wish we'd see more of that out of this unit.
4. The play of Hayden Hurst. The more I watch Hayden Hurst go to work, the more I love the offseason move to trade a second-round pick to the Ravens to acquire the former first-round pick.
Hayden was credited with six catches for 68 yards against the Lions. He didn't catch a touchdown pass but was inches close of doing so.
Hurst did, however, make some amazing plays including hurdling a lines defender along the Falcons sideline and also alertly catching a deflected pass intended for Calvin Ridley in the first quarter for 7 yards. The Falcons ended up tying the game on that drive, 7-7.
I'm not sure why, but Hurst only caught two passes in the second half. His speed is something the Falcons should – and hopefully will – take more advantage of in the coming weeks.
Four things I disliked
Now for things I didn't like at all in this one, a game the Falcons should have won – just like they should have against the Cowboys and Bears. Don't think so? Well, take a gander at this before I get started.
OK, let's start with the painfully obvious.
1. Not running the clock out and giving the Lions a chance to win. After the Falcons picked up a first down at the Lions' 10-yard line with 1:12 to go in the game, Detroit burned its final timeout.
The Lions were clinging to a 16-14 lead at the time and had no way of stopping the clock.
All the Falcons had to do was run the ball, fall down, take a knee – whatever they wanted – and just burn the clock and let Younghoe Koo kick what should have been an easy field goal to win the game.
Gurley ran the ball off the left guard but couldn't stop his momentum 10 yards later and instead of falling short of the goal line, he crossed the goal line by an inch or two. Touchdown, Falcons. Atlanta also converted a two-point conversion and went up 22-16.
The problem, though, was that the Falcons gave the ball back to Matthew Stafford and Co. with 1:04 left. A touchdown and extra point would win it for the Lions – and that's exactly what they went and did.
Stafford hit T.J. Hockenson for an 11-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left. And even though the Lions were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating, Prater still drilled the extra point.
After the game, Gurley said he was "as mad as hell." Yeah, so are Falcons fans.
2. Decision to go for it on fourth-and-5 on the Lions 13. When games come are this close and decided by one score, every decision and mistake is second-guessed.
The Falcons were up 14-13 at one point in the fourth quarter and were facing a fourth-and-5 at the Lions 13-yard line with 12:01 to go. Instead of kicking an easy field goal to go up 17-13, the Falcons decided to go for it and attempted a pass.
Ryan tossed a pass in the direction of running back Ito Smith. It was tipped by Trey Flowers and fell incomplete. If the Lions defender somehow managed to pull the ball in, he had tons (and tons) of open green space in front of him.
Instead of taking a four-point lead, the Falcons came away with no points and dodged a potential pick-six. Not great, Bob.
3. The only turnover of the game, which hurt the Falcons. The Falcons did an excellent job of protecting the football, for the most part. In a game that was this close, any extra possession gained via turnover would be huge.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they turned the ball over once – a fumble by Ryan – and it resulted in points for the Lions.
On third-and-8 at the Falcons 48, Ryan was sacked by the Lions' Romeo Okwara for a 9-yard loss and fumbled on the play. Trey Flowers recovered the ball at the 36-yard line and advanced it 4 more yards.
Four plays later, Prater booted a 49-yard field goal to give Detroit a 16-14 lead.
4. The roughing the passer call on A.J. Terrell. I get the call, but I still don't like it.
On Detroit's opening drive, the Lions marched from their own 24-yard line down to the Falcons 7. Facing a third-and-goal on the 7-yard line, it appeared that A.J. Terrell had sacked Stafford for a 4-yard loss to force the Lions into attempting a field goal.
Instead, Terrell was penalized for roughing the passer because when he tackled Stafford, who was running on the play, Terrell went too high on the tackle. Instant replayed showed that he may have launched himself into Stafford and the first thing to hit was his helmet.
A lot of Falcons fans on social media – and even the FOX Sports commentators calling the game – questioned the penalty. Regardless, it gave the Lions a first-and-goal at the Falcons 3-yard line.
D'Andre Swift ran it in on the very next play and the Lions took a 7-0 lead. Tough call with a bad outcome for the Falcons.