Backup quarterback Tim Boyle played a safe, efficient game—much better than his previous start earlier in the season. But when it came to crunch time, he just didn’t make the plays the Lions absolutely need.
Detroit got a late turnover that put them in a great spot to pull off the upset. Unfortunately, Boyle threw a back-breaking interception with the Lions just 9 yards away from winning the game.
With the loss, the Lions drop to 2-12-1, but they are much closer to securing a top-two pick with some of the other Week 16 results.
Here’s how the game played out.
The Lions won the toss and deferred, as they’ve done recently. They got an early chance to get a three-and-out on a third-and-11, but Matt Ryan found Kyle Pitts just beyond the sticks to keep the drive alive. But that drive didn’t last long, as the Lions would get sacks on two of the next three plays, thanks to Alim McNeill and Austin Bryant.
Boyle took over with decent field position after a nice punt return from Kalif Raymond. The young quarterback in his second start made a couple of nice completions to extend the drive into Falcons territory. That includes a clutch pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on a third-and-12 that put Detroit in the red zone. Unfortunately, there appeared to be a miscommunication on a third down, so the Lions had to settle for a 26-yard field goal and a 3-0 Lions lead.
Detroit’s defense got off the field quickly again thanks to a beautiful pass breakup by AJ Parker on third down. Unfortunately, Raymond let the ensuing punt bounce in front of him and it rolled all the way to the Lions’ 10-yard line, giving Boyle some tough field position. The Lions would go three-and-out, too, after Boyle’s arm was hit on third down, forcing an incomplete pass towards a wide-open Josh Reynolds. During the drive, fullback Jason Cabinda suffered a knee injury and went to the locker room. His return is questionable. Update: Cabinda will NOT return.
The Falcons took over with good field position, as the first quarter came to a close.
The Falcons offense started to pick things up, and worked their way into Lions territory. A 15-yard pass to Russell Gage and a 10-yard toss to Marvin Hall got Atlanta inside the 20-yard line. The Falcons were facing a fourth-and-inches, and caught the Lions off-guard with a pitch to Cordarrelle Patterson, who scampered in from 6 yards out. 7-3 Falcons.
The Lions running backs started going on the next drive. First, Jamaal Williams picked up 15 on a rushing play, then Craig Reynolds Detroit another 14 after breaking a couple tackles on a reception. The Lions faced a fourth-and-inches from the Falcons’ 40-yard line, and as Dan Campbell has done all year, he decided to go for it. Unfortunately, Jonah Jackson jumped for a false start. FORTUNATELY, the Lions pulled off yet another fake punt when Jack Fox unleashed a perfect pass to KhaDarel Hodge.
A few plays later, St. Brown made a phenomenal play, snagging the ball out of the air, and lowering his shoulder for a 20-yard touchdown. 10-7 Lions.
Atlanta, though, made quick work of the Lions defense, driving into Detroit territory in just three plays before hitting the two-minute warning. But Detroit would not give up another first down as Jalen Reeves-Maybin tipped a second-down pass and pressure forced a throw away on the next play. Younghoe Koo was good from 53 yards, though, tying up the ballgame with 1:04 left. 10-10.
With two timeouts, the Lions attempted to work their one-minute offense. But Boyle missed on a couple of key throws, and Detroit would eventually let most of the clock run down before calling a timeout for one last shot at a Hail Mary. It fell incomplete and we went into halftime tied at 10.
The Lions offense quickly went three-and-out after Boyle couldn’t connect with Josh Reynolds on a third down.
Kyle Pitts started to take over for the Falcons, with catches of 18 and 35 yards for Atlanta on their first drive of the half.
Detroit would stop the Falcons shortly after crossing into Lions territory with another well-time blitz. But Koo was good from 48 yards, to push the score to 13-10 Falcons.
The Lions offense got back in rhythm with a few good rushes, including the second time they’ve run an end-around to St. Brown. This time, he picked up 12 yards on a third-and-5 to set up the Lions at Atlanta’s 37-yard line. On the play, tight end Shane Zylstra suffered an injury that forced him to be carted off. That left Brock Wright as the only healthy tight end on the roster, with Cabinda also out.
However, a couple of false starts pushed the Lions out of the red zone, and the Lions had to settle for a 37-yard field goal from Riley Patterson, tying up the ballgame. 13-13.
Falcons running back Mike Davis showed some physicality on the next drive, forcibly running his way to midfield on a couple of runs. Atlanta moved inside the Lions’ 35-yard line as the game turned over to the final quarter.
Matt Ryan showed some veteran savvy to open the final quarter. First, he escaped pressure from Charles Harris and found Pitts for a third-down conversion. On the next play, he lofted a perfect pass over Harris’ hands and into the waiting arms of tight end Hayden Hurst for the go-ahead touchdown. 20-13 Falcons.
Boyle found Josh Reynolds for a big 23-yard gain to start the drive, but Reynolds appeared to injury his hand on the play. He would miss a handful of plays but return shortly thereafter.
The Lions found themselves in another fourth-and-less-than-1 at the Falcons’ 28-yard line, and Jamaal Williams just barely got enough to keep the drive alive. On the next set of downs, the Lions had to convert yet another fourth-and-1, and Boyle found Raymond for another conversion. That would make the Lions three-for-four on fourth down, with the only failed conversion the Hail Mary at the end of the first half.
Unfortunately, Detroit was stopped yet again, forcing a fourth-and-5 with 2:41 remaining. This time the Lions made the controversial decision to kick a field goal, pushing the score to 20-16 Falcons.
Detroit’s defense needed a stop, and boy did they get one. Jalen Reeves-Maybin jarred the ball loose on third down, and Dean Marlowe scooped it up for a huge turnover. The Lions took over the ball on the Falcons’ 37-yard line, with 2:18 left to win the game.
Detroit methodically worked their way into the red zone, hoping to drain as much clock and finish with the ball in their hands.
But on a first-and-goal with 39 seconds left, Boyle threw it right to a Falcons defender, ending Detroit’s shot at an upset.