DETROIT – It was less than an hour before the game when the Falcons emerged from a tunnel at Ford Field and found the entire Detroit Lions team standing there in the corner of the end zone. Mike Peterson, self-appointed drill sergeant in matters such as these, announced his team’s arrival.
“We had somewhere to go and they were in our way,” the Falcons linebacker said. “I said, ‘We’re not going around them — we’re going this way [straight ahead].’ I said, ‘Get the bleepity bleep out of the way.’”
Some pre-rumble-like jawing ensued. There were no punches but it got uncomfortable enough that pipsqueak game officials were forced to step in and separate a thousand pounds of humanity.
This was a good sign for the Falcons.
There hasn’t been a game this season when they didn’t slip a gear at some point. Sunday’s game was no exception. But what they gave us after the pregame stare down was easily their most impressive victory of the season and one of their edgiest.
They beat a 5-1 Detroit team, 23-16. They won on the road, where they hadn’t been impressive. They saw Matt Ryan leave the game with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, only to see him return and immediately fire a 49-yard completion to Harry Douglas. They saw Michael Turner leave the game with a dislocated finger, only to have someone on the sideline pop it back into place, after which Turner came back and broke off a 50-yarder.
They were smack-talked, taunted and treated to cheap shots by the Lions, and they won anyway. Ryan threw two interceptions but he made plays to win the game. The defense, maligned for much of this season, held the Lions without a third-down conversion until late in the third quarter. Calvin Johnson was relatively held in check (one touchdown).
After a loss to Green Bay had them reeling at 2-3, the Falcons have responded with consecutive wins over Carolina and Detroit, and have reason to feel good about things going into the bye week.
“This changes a lot,” said center Todd McClure. “We knew the type of team we had, we just hadn’t put it together. We weren’t perfect today. I know we had some penalties, but we overcame them. This win I think could catapult us for the rest of the season.”
The game started with some ill feelings. It ended that way, too.
When Ryan tripped over tackle Will Svitek with 10:13 left in the third quarter, he fell awkwardly and immediately grabbed his left knee. Tight end Tony Gonzalez said later, “I thought it was something bad. Anytime they come get you off the field, you think it’s something serious, especially when you have to go back to the locker room.”
As it turned out, Ryan missed only the first two plays of the Falcons’ ensuing possession, returning to throw a 49-yarder to Douglas on third-and-8 to set up a field goal that increased the lead to 20-9. (Coach Mike Smith on Ryan: “It just shows you the resolve and resiliency of this guy.”)
But when Ryan was down, writhing in pain, Lions defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril taunted him, according to the Falcons.
“I had respect for Suh before the game,” McClure said. “But when Matt was on the ground, the things he was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don’t do. [He said], ‘Get the cart’ and several other things that I can’t repeat.”
Roddy White said, “I lost a whole lot of respect for 90 [Suh] today, and also 92 [Cliff Avril], the [bleep] they were doing when Matt got hurt. That was unacceptable. … Like 92 was kicking [Ryan’s] feet, saying, ‘Get him off the field.’ We don’t do stuff like that. We don’t rally over guys when they get hurt. It was just inappropriate behavior. I mean, ‘Get the cart’? Are you serious? Come on. When you compete, you never want to see a guy get hurt.”
Suh and Avril were not around to respond to the comments afterward. But it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing somebody would make up after a win.
Detroit has lost two straight since a 5-0 start. The Falcons have won two straight since 2-3. This could be a market correction. Certainly, the Falcons feel like it is for them.
“They were 5-1 and they were absolutely drinking the Kool-Aid over here,” White said. “We just wanted to get a win. We didn’t want to fuss and fight and argue with those guys, like, ‘Who’s the better team?’ We got the W. That’s all that matters.”
By Jeff Schultz