Detroit — The Falcons defensive plan was simple. They wanted to disrupt Detroit’s Georgia-Georgia Tech connection.
They didn’t want Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, a former Bulldog, and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, a former Yellow Jacket, to have a field day on Sunday at Ford Field.
“We missed opportunities,” Stafford said. “I missed Calvin on a touchdown pass. There were some other opportunities in the game where we just didn’t connect.”
The Falcons sacked Stafford three times and had six quarterback hits.
“We got to Stafford,” middle linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “He never felt comfortable back there the entire game.”
Several players on the defense contended that this was their best overall showing of the season.
“We set the standard for ourselves today. … I would say it’s the most complete game that we’ve played so far,” Lofton said. “But as good as we played, we still left a lot out there. We are still getting better.”
Stafford completed 15 of 32 passes for 183 yards and finished with a passer rating of 75.4. He did connect with Johnson on a 57-yard touchdown passin the third quarter.
“We did a good job of keeping him moving in the pocket,” said defensive end John Abraham, who had a sack. “We made him a little jittery. We made him throw it a little sooner than maybe he wanted.”
Late in the game, Stafford suffered a knee injury.
“Yeah, we’re going to check him out,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “He sort of limped off the field at the end. [We'll] look at his knee and his ankle.”
Cornerback Brent Grimes had Johnson most of the game. Although he did line up on Dunta Robinson’s side occasionally.
Johnson was targeted 11 times and caught five passes for 115 yards. But he was not effective on third downs, as the Falcons tried to take Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew away from Stafford on third down.
They were extremely successful as the Lions converted on just 1 of 12 third downs.
“We are our own worst enemy. … Until we can put together a strong four-quarter game, we are going to continue to have these bumps in the road,” Johnson said.
Falcons coach Mike Smith was pleased with the defense’s play on third down. The unit entered the game ranked last in the league in third-down efficiency (49 percent).
“We’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback,” Smith said. “Our guys had a very good understanding of what we were trying to get done and they executed. We wanted to take away their two prime threats [Johnson] and [Pettigrew]. I thought that they did that on third down especially.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog