The Detroit Lions lost a heartbreaker Sunday at Ford Field, as the Atlanta Falcons escaped with a 30-26 victory over the home team. Detroit now moves to 2-1 on the season. Atlanta jumped out to a 17-3 edge early and held that advantage throughout the majority of the contest. The Lions fought back, knotting up the score by the end of the third quarter, but their comeback attempt faltered after failing to convert three 1st-and-Goal opportunities in the game’s final seconds. Here are three takeaways from the team’s heart-wrenching defeat:
1) The Defense: Good And Bad
There were both positives and negatives regarding the Lions defensive performance on Sunday. Let’s start off on an optimistic note and begin with the positives. Detroit managed to force three Falcons turnovers, all of them being Matt Ryan interceptions.
Glover Quin was the first to pick off the reigning-NFL MVP with just under two minutes remaining in the first half, returning the ball 37 yards the other way for the Lions first touchdown of the afternoon. Darius Slay produced the two other interceptions. The fifth-year corner has now matched his interception total (2) from each of the past three seasons.
For a team that placed 28th in takeaways in 2016, this is definitely a sign of progress. Entering this week, Detroit ranked second in the NFL with five forced turnovers. Baltimore seems to have a strong hold atop the department with 10 takeaways, but the Lions are certainly improving upon a glaring weakness from last year.
Now get to Detroit’s defensive flaws from their matchup with Atlanta, which far outweigh the strengths. Atlanta ran all over the field, totaling 151 yards on 5.4 yards per rush. The Lions simply couldn’t contain the Falcons tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries while Coleman yielded 46 yards on only six carries.
Even Ryan had a nice game outside of his three turnovers, completing 24 of his 35 passes for 294 yards and two scores. Unsurprisingly, Julio Jones was his favorite target. The pair connected seven times for 91 yards.
Overall, Detroit was unable to handle Atlanta’s deadly offensive attack. For most of the afternoon, the Falcons did just about whatever they wanted when they had possession. The Lions defense did get better as the game went on, but they have to prove that they can be more consistent if this team wants to battle for a playoff spot.
2) Matt Prater Steps Up, The Offense Steps Down
One player that is starting to deserve some serious attention is kicker Matt Prater. The 33-year-old made all four of his field goal attempts Sunday, including two from 50 plus yards. Prater is now 6 for 6 on the year, with four of those conversions coming from beyond that 50-yard threshold.
Dating back to last year, Prater has made 11 consecutive field goals from further than 50 yards. He is now one away from tying the NFL record of 12, held by both Blair Walsh and Robbie Gould. The former Denver Broncos kicker, who also set an NFL record with a 64-yard kick in 2013, has converted on 80 of his 92 attempts during his now four-year tenure in Detroit. That 87 percent clip makes him the most accurate kicker in Lions history.
Of course, there are more important factors in football than special teams. But when Matt Prater is marking his name across that many league records, it can’t go unnoticed.
Detroit’s offense, meanwhile, struggled against the Falcons. The run game failed to build from the momentum of last week, amounting just 71 yards on 3.7 yards per rush. Ameer Abdullah was especially disappointing, producing only 47 yards on 14 carries.
This performance proves that there is still a lot of work to do surrounding the Lions ground attack. A healthy Abdullah is undoubtedly an improvement upon 2016, but the former Nebraska Cornhusker is going to have to be more consistent for Detroit to have the balanced offense that it needs.
Speaking of a balanced offense, the passing game also failed to get much going against the Falcons defense. Matthew Stafford had his worst game of the young season, completing only 25 of 45 passes (55.6%) for 264 yards and one touchdown. It certainly wasn’t a terrible performance, but not enough to beat a unit as strong as Atlanta.
3) The Magic Stops
You’ve probably heard it over and over again: the Lions are the team of the comeback. Eight of their nine victories last season came via the fourth-quarter comeback, and Detroit kept it rolling with a come-from-behind win over Arizona to begin the 2017 campaign.
And on Sunday, the Lions had chance to sneak out another late triumph when they got the ball on their own 11-yard line trailing by four with just over two minutes left on the clock.
As the drive began, it looked like Stafford was going to add to Detroit’s list of improbable wins. It took just two plays for the Lions star quarterback to bring his team into Atlanta territory with 1:48 remaining. Then, two completions and one quarterback scramble later, Stafford had Detroit in the redzone.
The next 80 seconds were ugly, filled with penalties on both squads. But eventually, a defensive pass-interference gave the Lions first-and-goal at the one-yard line with the scoreboard proclaiming 0:19.
With no timeouts left, head coach Jim Caldwell called for two passing plays on first and second-down. Both attempts fell incomplete. On third down, Stafford snapped the ball from the shotgun again and connected with Golden Tate for what initially seemed like a game-winning score.
The crowd erupted. Detroit appeared to just become 3-0 on the year following a huge victory over last season’s NFC champs. But after further review, the refs called the touchdown off, saying Tate was down before the goal line. Not only that, but they also ran ten seconds from the clock, ending the game and handing Atlanta the win.
At first, it may seem infuriating: how can the referees just end the contest without giving the Lions one last fourt down play? They were the ones that stopped the clock after they called touchdown, so how can they just assume the Lions would not have been able to get one more snap off?
But in hindsight, the decision- which comes straight from the NFL rulebook- is reasonable. There was little chance Detroit would be able to snap the ball in just eight seconds, which was the time remaining after Tate was stopped short. Whether you want to argue that Tate wasn’t down- or that Stafford shouldn’t have thrown the ball in front of the endzone in that scenario- is another story.
In the end, the point is this: sometimes things don’t always work out for you. Lions fans of all people should know that. Last year was an anomaly, where nearly every close game seemed to go in Detroit’s favor. That won’t usually be the case. Fans from the Motor City just need to get over it and prepare for a battle next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: Week Three Detroit Lions Takeaways