On Sunday, the Detroit Lions were outcoached and outplayed on their home turf, and they lost as a result. This was the theme of last week's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and the script this week against the Atlanta Falcons was very similar. The Lions just didn't play well, and they were unable to overcome their sloppiness and lost by a score of 23-16 for their second defeat in a row.
last week the last month, the Lions got off to a slow start against the Falcons. The Lions received the ball to start the game and promptly went three-and-out, which came as a surprise to no one. Between the lack of a running game, the awful protection and some accuracy issues for Matthew Stafford, the offense has simply been in a funk, and it continued on Sunday. At times the offense looks explosive, but more often than not lately it has looked lost.
Once again like last week, the defense made a big play early on to give the offense a chance to put some points on the board. It wasn't a Kyle Vanden Bosch fumble recovery, but rather an Eric Wright interception. He picked off Matt Ryan and returned the interception 22 yards down to the Atlanta 15. The Lions were in great position to score the game's first points, and they did, no thanks to the offense. Stafford was sacked on the first two plays of the drive, and after a pass went for only four yards on third-and-24, the Lions had to settle for a 43-yard Jason Hanson field goal.
Following the field goal, the Lions caught a big break on the kickoff. Eric Weems returned it 104 yards for a touchdown, but a block in the back penalty negated the score. The penalty was completely unnecessary in terms of helping open up room for Weems, who navigated his way through some awful coverage that has been common to Lions special teams all year long.
The Falcons caught a break of their own on the first play of the drive after the return. Ryan was sacked by Ndamukong Suh for a loss of five yards, but Suh grabbed Ryan's face mask in the process. The penalty gave the Falcons 15 free yards and an automatic first down, but they were unable to capitalize on it and had to punt a few plays later.
The Lions shot themselves in the foot with another penalty when they took over on offense. Rob Sims was flagged for holding on the drive's opening play, and the Lions couldn't recover. They had to punt it away after a three-and-out, and Weems took the punt 37 yards down to the Detroit 26. There were no flags this time, and the big return set up an eventual 23-yard field goal by Matt Bryant after the Falcons were stuffed by Suh on third-and-one from the five-yard line.
The Lions continued to fall apart in the first quarter of this game with yet another special teams mistake. After electing to have the Falcons re-kick because of an offside penalty, the Lions had hopes of improving their field position. That would have happened had Stefan Logan been able to hold on to the ball, but he couldn't and fumbled it away to the Falcons. Just like that Atlanta was back on offense and had another drive starting deep in Lions territory. This time around they were able to find the end zone thanks to a quarterback sneak from Ryan that came after back-to-back pass interference penalties on the Lions.
Now trailing by a touchdown, the Lions seemed to wake up a bit and found some success on offense. They quickly moved down the field and into Falcons territory and were knocking on the door of the red zone. The drive stalled before they could get inside the 20, however, and the Lions were lucky to even get a field goal out of it. On third down, Stafford threw a pass to the end zone and the only player there was from the Falcons. Stafford and Titus Young were not on the same page, and the mistake should have resulted in an interception. The ball was dropped by the Falcons defender (there's a reason he's on defense, I guess), though, and the Lions managed to get a 38-yard field goal by Hanson.
After the two teams traded punts on the next couple drives, the Falcons took over at their own 19 with 3:30 left in the first half. Ryan quickly flipped the field position with a 30-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez, and a run by Michael Turner for 19 yards on the next play moved the Falcons down to the Detroit 20. One play later, Ryan found an open Roddy White, who made a great catch in the back of the end zone. The quick touchdown drive put the Falcons on top 17-6 at the half, and once again the Lions were forced to play catch up in the third and fourth quarters.
The Lions defense stood tough on the opening drives of the second half by forcing two straight three-and-outs. Unfortunately, the Lions offense couldn't do anything after the first three-and-out, and once again they had to settle for a field goal after the second three-and-out. Detroit looked like they were finally going to find the end zone after a 31-yard run by Maurice Morris, but Stafford missed an open Calvin Johnson in the end zone on first-and-goal and the next two plays were a run for no gain and yet another sack on Stafford. The Lions had to send out Hanson again, and he actually had his field goal attempt blocked. That was because Ray Edwards jumped offside, and Hanson nailed the re-kick to cut the lead to eight points.
The Falcons answered with a field goal of their own on the next drive to extend their lead back to 11 points. At the beginning of the drive, even getting into field goal range seemed unlikely. Ryan had his ankle stepped on by a teammate on the previous drive and he went down in pain. It looked so bad that I thought Ryan had snapped his ankle, but after a short visit to the locker room, he returned to the field and took over for Chris Redman after two plays. Ryan didn't miss a beat and found Harry Douglas for a gain of 49 yards on his first play back in the game. The drive stalled after the big gain, but it put the Falcons in field goal range and Matt Bryant connected from 47 yards out.
Needing to put some points on the board in the form of touchdowns, the Lions didn't disappoint for a change on offense. This was because Stafford looked in the direction of Johnson and finally gave him a couple of catchable passes. The first went for nine yards on third-and-four, and one play later Stafford found Johnson for a 57-yard touchdown. Stafford faked a handoff to Morris and faked an end-around to Burleson, and Johnson found himself open in the middle of the field. After catching a well-thrown pass, Johnson turned upfield, shook off a defender and ran into the end zone for the Lions' first touchdown of the game.
Thanks to a 50-yard run by Turner on the third play of the next drive, it looked like the Falcons were once again going to extend their lead back to two possessions. Just like Frank Gore a week ago, Turner broke free for the big gain, but the Falcons were not able to do anything with it because of a bad pass by Ryan. He overthrew Gonzalez and the ball went to Amari Spievey, who was in the right place at the right time for his second interception in as many weeks.
Unlike last week, Spievey's interception didn't spark a touchdown drive. In fact, the Lions couldn't even pick up a first down after it. They went three-and-out, and the Falcons started in Detroit territory on yet another drive after a punt. They were not able to find the end zone, but Bryant connected from 40 yards out to make it a 23-16 game with 8:41 to go.
Another three-and-out by the Lions put pressure on the defense to make a stop. It looked like they were at least going to surrender a field goal after a face mask penalty on Wright moved the Falcons into Lions territory, but back-to-back false starts moved the Falcons out of field goal range. The Lions defense only allowed two yards on the next few plays and the Falcons were forced to punt.
The Lions took over at their own 13 with 3:20 to go in the game. Stafford found Johnson for 19 yards on the first play of the drive and Tony Scheffler for six on the next play. Scheffler caught a pass for a gain of 17 one play later, but a killer holding penalty negated the big gain. The Lions battled back from the flag to pick up a first down on fourth-and-five, keeping the chains moving and their hopes of a comeback alive. There was no fourth-down conversion the next time around, though. Stafford threw four straight incompletions and the Lions turned the ball over on downs. To make matters worse, Stafford injured his knee and/or ankle after coming down awkwardly on fourth down, and he limped off the field.
Stafford said after the game he would have tried to play if the offense had gotten the ball back, but they didn't. The Falcons moved the ball on third down thanks to some awful tackling by the Lions, and the conversion allowed them to take a knee and run out the clock. There would be no last-minute drive for the Lions to attempt to tie the game this week, as the Falcons sealed their 23-16 win by lining up in the victory formation.
Although it was disappointing to watch the Lions lose last week, I chalked it up to them making a lot of mistakes against a good team. This week, however, the Lions repeated a lot of their mistakes from the 49ers game and got beat by a team that hasn't played a ton of good football this year. The Falcons definitely have talent, but this was a game the Lions can't lose if they are serious about making a playoff run, especially when you consider it was at home.
Next week the Lions are off to Denver to take on the Fighting Tim Tebows, err, Broncos. Although the Lions are facing a lot of adversity right now considering they are dealing with two straight losses, an anemic offense, awful special teams and an injured Stafford, this is a game that they can't afford to lose. I don't care who the quarterback is, the Lions need to get their season back on track with a win next week before they go into their bye. A loss to the Broncos would be disastrous not only for the psyche of this team, but for where the Lions stand in the playoff hunt. With so many tough games on the second half of the schedule, games against teams like the Broncos are must-wins for the Lions.