Every offseason Lions fans get the feeling that this is finally the year things will get turned around. Optimism runs high annually for Lions fans and this year specifically many fans got drunk on Kool-Aid, so to speak, after an undefeated preseason. Predictions quickly began to go from 6 or 7 wins to the Lions winning the division and making the playoffs. Well, one game into the season, I'd say we were all fooled again.
The Lions headed south to battle the Falcons in the regular season opener, and with a rookie quarterback starting for Atlanta, this game was viewed as one the Lions should win quite easily. After all, they looked so good in the preseason, so that improvement obviously would translate to the regular season as well. Right? Well, not so much. The defense looked just as bad as last year as they got destroyed by Michael Turner, and the offense struggled for a good part of this game as well. That combination resulted in a 34-21 Falcons win that can only be described as embarrassing for the Lions.
The first sign of embarrassment that set the tone for the rest of the game came only three plays in. Matt Ryan hit Michael Jenkins with a perfect pass and Jenkins was gone. He had already beaten the man covering him, Travis Fisher, and had nothing but turf in front of him as safety Gerald Alexander was out of position. Jenkins ran into the end zone to score the 62-yard TD, giving Ryan a TD on his first NFL completion and the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
After the Lions' offense went nowhere, the Falcons got the ball back and quickly scored another 60+ yard touchdown. This time it was Michael Turner that scored on the fourth play of the drive. He got the handoff and had lots of room to run on the left side as Dewayne White got jammed inside. Turner hit the next level and broke a couple tackle attempts and was gone for the 66-yard TD run. Poor tackling is something we saw from the Lions all day long and this was the play where it came back to bite them the most as the Falcons took an early 14-0 lead.
Looking to answer the Falcons' two easy touchdowns, the Lions offense looked just as bad as the defense by going three and out. Much to no one's surprise, the Falcons wasted little time before finding the endzone again, and just as we saw before, it was all because of Michael Turner. Turner picked up a gain of 29 yards and drew a personal foul penalty on the Lions as well. That put the ball at the 5-yard line and on the very next play Turner ran into the end zone with ease, giving Atlanta a 21-0 lead.
As the two teams traded possessions heading into the second quarter, the Lions finally got their offense going. Kevin Smith was running the ball well and the passing game was even better. Dan Campbell was on the receiving end of a 21-yard pass from Jon Kitna, and shortly after Roy Williams caught a pass for 13 yards. Williams then drew an illegal contact penalty on 3rd and 9, giving the Lions a first down at the Atlanta 4-yard line. That set up Kevin Smith to get his first career touchdown from 3 yards out, cutting the lead to two touchdowns.
Neither team was able to do much as the second quarter went on, that is, until the Lions took over with 55 seconds to go in the half. Still trailing by 14 points, the Lions were hoping to just get something to cut the lead down going into halftime. Thanks to Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams, they did just that. Kitna found Johnson on a crossing pattern and Johnson ran past Atlanta defenders for a gain of 38 yards. With no timeouts remaining, Kitna had to spike the ball, but there was still more than enough time to put the ball into the endzone, especially since the Lions only needed one play to do so.
Kitna threw a great pass to the back corner of the end zone and put it where only Roy Williams could catch it. Williams used his big height advantage over the cornerback to grab the ball out of the air to make the catch. He also made sure to get two feet down inbounds as the catch was made near the sidelines. The play was actually reviewed since it was so close, but in the end it was clearly a touchdown for the Lions that put Detroit right back in the thick of things going into halftime as they only trailed 21-14.
Detroit actually had a chance to tie the game as the second half got underway since they got the ball first, but a costly turnover would really put to rest any hope of winning. Yes, it was on the first drive of the second half, but any momentum the Lions had was gone after Jon Kitna threw an interception to end a promising drive. Detroit was starting to move the ball and needed only a touchdown to even things up. However, Roy Williams ran the wrong route and caused Kitna to throw it nowhere near him. Lawyer Milloy made the diving catch to pick off the pass and returned it all the way to the Detroit 49-yard line.
The Falcons couldn't convert the interception into a touchdown, but they still got 3 points out of it when Jason Elam connected from 50 yards away. That made the score 24-14, and as previously stated, left the Lions with no momentum. That was evident when they got the ball back as nothing went right for Detroit. On 3rd and 9 Jon Kitna scrambled away from defenders and easily could have picked up a first down. Problem is he slid to avoid getting hit about half a yard too early, bringing up fourth down. Kitna should have known where he was at and should have moved the chains. Instead, he forced the Lions to punt again and really killed the Lions' chances to make this a game.
Atlanta quickly put the Lions in an even bigger hole following the punt with one big pass and a big run by Jerious Norwood. Matt Ryan threw the ball downfield and Roddy White made a spectacular catch for a gain of 46. Leigh Bodden did a poor job of covering White and left him open enough to haul in the pass. Two plays later Norwood got the handoff and ran for 10 yards and another Falcons touchdown, making the score 31-14 in favor of Atlanta.
Now trailing by 17 points, the Lions did briefly wake up and realize that they had to do something to simply make this a game again. Considering that, the Lions calmed down a bit and used a nice mix of running and passing to move the ball. Kevin Smith was able to pick up a couple solid gains and then Rudi Johnson came in and went for 12 yards. A couple plays later, Kitna hit Mike Furrey for 12 more yards and the Lions got all the way down to the 1-yard line thanks to a defensive pass interference penalty. On the very next play Kitna sold a handoff perfectly, leaving Casey FitzSimmons wide open in the back of the end zone for a Lions touchdown.
Again only trailing by 10, the Falcons needed to answer the touchdown by putting some points of their own on the board. At one point it appeared the Falcons answered with a touchdown, but a holding penalty nullified Michael Turner's third score of the game. The Lions defense did actually step it up after the penalty and held Atlanta to a field goal to keep the lead to only two possessions.
Detroit would need to score a pair of touchdowns to complete their prolonged comeback, but they were having enough trouble simply moving the ball out of their own terriroty. The Lions actually ran nearly five minutes off the clock and ultimately advanced the ball only 12 yards on the drive following the Atlanta field goal. Things were looking to be in alright shape as Kitna was able to find Calvin Johnson and Shawn McDonald for decent gains on three consecutive plays. However, for some reason the Lions decided to hand the ball off and Smith was tackled for a loss. Then, on the next play, Kitna fumbled the ball when he was trying to fake a handoff, causing the Lions to lose 7 more yards.
With no hope left after Kitna was sacked on 3rd and long, the Lions punted the ball away and would never take another offensive snap in this game. The Falcons ran out the final 5:53 left on the clock thanks to a healthy dose of Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood. The two backs ran right through the Lions defense just as they had done during the entire game. They kept the chains moving long enough for Matt Ryan to eventually take three knees to end the game and give the Falcons a 34-21 victory.
All in all, this game was utterly shocking to me. I expected the Lions to not only play better but look more competent. Instead I saw a team that didn't look the least bit prepared as they couldn't tackle, couldn't cover receivers, and barely got any pressure on Matt Ryan. On offense I got to watch Jon Kitna complain and complain throughout the entire first half as he repeatedly burned timeouts to go and chew out coaches on the sideline. The running game was better than I thought it would be, but the offense was still too inconsistent to make this a game to the very end.
The Lions will have to put this disappointment in the back of their heads and rebound next week as the Packers come to town. Hopefully things will go better for the season's home opener as Detroit really can't afford to lose again. A 6-2 start last year may have set us up for eventual disappointment, but a losing start is no fun at all. Kickoff for the Packers game is set for 1 p.m. ET on FOX. As usual, I'll be here to provide live updates throughout the game.