Falcons respond as great teams should, beat Lions (updated)

Backup tight end Michael Palmer celebrates with Tony Gonzalez after his one-yard touchdown catch made it 21-3. (AP photo)

Michael Palmer celebrates with Tony Gonzalez after his one-yard touchdown catch made it 21-3. (AP)

(Updated: 1:15 a.m.)

DETROIT – With no guarantees for the future, the Falcons nonetheless did all they could Saturday night to comfort its fan base and fire a warning shot over the rest of the NFL’s playoff field. They are ready this time.

The bandwagon still seemed half-empty after 11 wins. The 34-0 bodyslam of the New York Giants last week caused a majority of skeptics to reconsider their position.

But after Saturday’s 31-18 win over the Detroit Lions, the doubters almost certainly represent an extreme minority, like those few purchasing the only sweater at full retail before Christmas.

This was a test for the Falcons. They passed. They didn’t “go cool,” as tight end Tony Gonzalez had put it days after the win over the Giants. They stepped on the gas. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead on three touchdown passes by Matt Ryan. They survived some hiccups in the third and rebounded when Ryan orchestrated one of the best scoring drives of the season, with six straight completions and a 16-yard scramble (where did that come from?)

Ryan completed 25 of 32 for 279 yards and four touchdowns. For the second straight week, he looked as good as he has at any time in his career.

You wanted a statement? This was it. A win over the Lions doesn’t equate to a win over the Giants in marquee value. But it says something about a team’s strength, character and direction when it can win this kind of game. They’ve rendered the final regular season game against Tampa Bay meaningless. They’ve clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home field through the playoffs.

Now all they have to do is make this count for something.

“It means a lot because this was one of the goals,” wide receiver Roddy White said. “We wanted to play in the (Georgia) Dome and have everybody come to us, and then we’ll give them our best shot.”

White led the Falcons with eight catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. And it’s hard to look good when you’re a receiver playing in the same game as Calvin Johnson. The former Georgia Tech star finished with 11 catches for 225 yards and broke Jerry Rice’s single season NFL record for receiving yardage.

Lions’ fans in Ford Field exploded after Johnson’s record-breaking catch. The Falcons didn’t mind because they had already secured the win and everything they came for.

“I like our chances (in the playoffs) a lot better at home with the Dome rocking,” Gonzalez said. “But it doesn’t mean anything obviously. We still have to go out there and play. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. We still have to go out there and play some great football.”

Matt Ryan threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns and is playing the best football of his career. (AP)

Matt Ryan threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns and is playing at his best. (AP)

They still have something to prove. But the Falcons are a team with direction. The Lions are a team in need of a fire extinguisher. They seem to be in a perpetual grease fire.

How is it that a franchise can have a jewel of a player like Johnson and yet be 4-11 with a seven-game losing streak, long-since exterminated from playoff contention? Lions’ fans exhibited two emotions in the first half: They cheered Johnson and booed almost everybody else.

The Falcons lquickly eased concerns of a letdown following the win over the Giants. They played fast, jumping out to an early lead. They seemed loose. In pre-game warm-ups, all of the players huddled around wide receiver Harry Douglas, who exhibited some break-dancing moves, jumping up in the air and doing a belly landing on the turf. (Wasn’t he just on the injury list with sore ribs, or was that a smoke screen?)

Ryan was at the center of the early assault. He completed his first 12 attempts. In the half, he went 15-for-16 for 184 yards and three touchdowns.

There was that one incomplete intended for Julio Jones in the end zone. Wimp.

Ryan actually had 22 straight completions before that pass, two short of the NFL record, going back to the Giants game. Ryan laughed when asked  about the near-record, saying, “They told me about it after the game. But I was preoccupied with other things. … It’s one of those things you don’t really talk about on the sideline. Don’t feed the demons.”

It was 7-0 in the first quarter after White, on a third-and-1 play, burned ex-Falcon Chris Houston for a 44-yard touchdown in the first quarter. It was 14-3 in the second after Ryan checked down to White, who took advantage of a great down-field block by Sam Baker on Detroit Louis Delmas, who streaked 39 yards for another score.

The Lions’ second fumble of the game — by Johnson at the Lions’ 40 – set up the Falcons’ third score. On second down from the 16, Ryan lofted a pass toward the back right corner of the end zone for Jones, who made the catch and somehow dragged both feet in bounds to make it 21-3.

At that point, it seemed like the Falcons’ only chance of losing this game depended on how many nations Johnson would conquer in one night. He had nine catches for 178 yards through three quarters. It was he and quarterback Matthew Stafford who largely engineered a 60-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that suddenly made things uncomfortable in Falcons’ land (21-13). An ensuing field goal made it 21-16.

But Ryan restored order. Just as he took over in the Giants game last week, he took over again, completing six straight passes. He had a 16-yard scramble on second-and-17. And after completions to White, Jones and Gonzalez, who does Ryan throw to for the one yard touchdown? Michael Palmer. That made it 28-16.

Asante Samuel picked off Stafford on Detroit’s next possession. That pretty much was it. The Falcons were soon celebrating a win, a bye week and a No. 1 seed.

We’ll soon find out what it means. But they have to like the view.

By Jeff Schultz

194 comments Add your comment

Mariage Parfait Gueze

December 22nd, 2012
11:43 pm

ld

December 22nd, 2012
11:43 pm

To

December 22nd, 2012
11:43 pm

JSS

December 22nd, 2012
11:46 pm

Wholesale -15% is the only to go…

Barney Fife

December 22nd, 2012
11:47 pm

Trade Turner for Megatron!

Rod

December 22nd, 2012
11:47 pm

Just what I said before the season started, home-field advantage. I have one more person on my list, and that’s Aaron Rodgers. They took care of Brees, Manning, and now one more. I want him for the NFC championship game, and I can’t wait. This is a special team. I’ve said it once and I’m saying again. This is our year!!!!

Former Good Day Fan!!!!

December 22nd, 2012
11:48 pm

Falcons Rise Up!!!!!!

Intellectual Ninja

December 22nd, 2012
11:49 pm

Also read ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas’ recap here: http://espn.go.com/blog/nfcsouth/post/_/id/43379/rapid-reaction-falcons-31-lions-18

His “What I Didn’t Like” section is right-on.

Mike Smith’s continued forcing of a horrible Michael Turner is stupid, stubborn coaching and almost cost the Falcons everything at the beginning of the second half.

Mike Smith REFUSES to learn any lesson. He continues to shut down the offense any time they get a 2-score lead. His Schottenheimer coaching style will once again cost the Falcons when it matters most.

The only person who can stop the Falcons offense is Mike Smith. And he is so stupidly insistent on stopping it as often as he can by interfering with what Koetter is going, and forcing the garbage Turner on the offense.

Falcons will never win a Super Bowl under Smith if he doesn’t change. I thought he’d change this year, but he hasn’t. Falcons pass more under Koetter, yes, but EVERY DAMN TIME they get a lead, Smith shuts the offense down.

WHY DO YOU STOP YOUR OWN OFFENSE IF THE OTHER TEAM CAN’T???

Stupid, stupid, stupid. stupid coaching.

Jason

December 22nd, 2012
11:49 pm

Two things I learned:

1) Calvin Johnson is unstoppable

2) Falcons can’t run the ball

JSS

December 22nd, 2012
11:50 pm

Easy answer, throwing 50+ times and multiple turnovers added to Jeff Fisher Jr. equals 4-11…

Oh does this means I get to break out the coronation coverage from Whitehall again next week? It turned out so well in 2010…

austinwantsyou

December 22nd, 2012
11:52 pm

Peter Konz has no business playing RG

Calistoga Dawg

December 22nd, 2012
11:53 pm

Good win. Glad to have the #1 seed. Better find a semblance of a running game or they won’t win it all. They may win a playoff game, but they won’t win the SB with this running game. Hope I am proved wrong.

JSS

December 22nd, 2012
11:55 pm

Oh god, worse than the junior version of obnoxiousness, the original version of “cut-and-paste” mental illness has crypted back from Davy Jone’s locker!!! :-(

Voice of Reason

December 22nd, 2012
11:56 pm

Thanks Jeff! This was a huge win for the TEAM and earned a HUGE advantage in the playoffs!!!!

Voice of Reason

December 22nd, 2012
11:56 pm

Thanks Jeff! This was a huge win for the TEAM and earned a HUGE advantage in the playoffs!!!!

LDawg

December 22nd, 2012
11:57 pm

Wow – I thought 522 yds of offense would mean you were invincible. How do you do that and still lose? Our defense was so vanilla, yet we got the win. Way to go Falcons on the win! Congrats to Megatron.

playmeortrademe

December 22nd, 2012
11:57 pm

Falcons don’t need a running game. They need to line up more people than the defense can stop. No more trying to establish Turner. Teams cannot stop Ryan reading defenses and having his choice of several options to throw to. It’s stupid playing not to lose like they do sometimes.

Eric C.

December 22nd, 2012
11:57 pm

Unfortunately, there were some plays where Turner was obviously not up to speed. Forget running turner outside…no more toss sweeps for Turner! He is too slow to cut up field through a seam…

Turner the “play” burner!!!!

Eric C.

December 22nd, 2012
11:59 pm

Julio Jones, worth those picks…wow

Eric C.

December 23rd, 2012
12:01 am

LDawg, should have been under 500 yds if not for handing the dumb play call for safety…but forget the stats now, time for a couple of playoff wins!

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:02 am

Took off most of the second half. Let Stafford and Johnson carve us up. This was a 4-10 team that climbed back in on us.

To our credit, we did what we had to, but come on! As we’ve said most weeks this season: why can’t we put theses crap a$$ teams away!?

Mariage Parfait Gueze

December 23rd, 2012
12:03 am

Falcons won, but I think using the word “bury” is hyperbole.

Eric C.

December 23rd, 2012
12:04 am

MCR, we miss you…come back please.

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:05 am

I’m thinking Turner getting hurt would help the team. If he’s not available, he’s number won’t be called.

Am I wrong?

BILLY MAYS HERE

December 23rd, 2012
12:05 am

BILLY MAYS HERE

December 23rd, 2012
12:06 am

Eric C.

December 22nd, 2012
11:57 pm

Turner the “play” burner!!!!

lol yep

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:09 am

And I love Calvin. Greatest player in GT history. But he was a fool to resign with the Lions. He will suffer the fate of Barry Sanders if he doesn’t demand a trade.

playmeortrademe

December 23rd, 2012
12:12 am

Don’t want Turner to get hurt, I just wish the coaches would stop believing that this is 2007 Michael Turner. Hey, he wasn’t even that good that season against above average defenses, and the Falcons had one of the weakest schedules ever. Quizz and Snelling are better weapons. Snelling’s only problem is he will put the ball on the ground sometimes.

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:13 am

What would it take to trade for Adrian Peterson? I’d send them a first, third and Harry Douglas.

playmeortrademe

December 23rd, 2012
12:15 am

I wonder how many of Johnson’s yards were in garbage time, like last week.

ESPN is disgusting with all this for Johnson. He has not won ANYTHING.

playmeortrademe

December 23rd, 2012
12:16 am

Johnson is just a nicer version of Randy Moss with a really stupid nickname playing against today’s soft NFL defenses.

Ben

December 23rd, 2012
12:17 am

Kinda cool that the best receiver in football also has the best nickname in sports.

Go Falcons!

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:18 am

Johnson’s a great player. Yards, garbage or not, count. I just wish he had thought about the his future. Of course I also wish that future had included coming home to Atlanta.

The way things are now, he’s wasted on the Lions like he was wasted at Tech…

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:20 am

Johnson=Barry Sanders 2.0

Michael "The Turtle" Turner

December 23rd, 2012
12:20 am

Can’t ya’ll see I ain’t getting a whole lot of blocking up front?

Back 2 The Brown Paper Bags

December 23rd, 2012
12:22 am

falcons need to cut kroy beirmann ! he cant get any pressure ! no knock downs, no nothing ! 4 mil down the drain !!!

Boo Boo

December 23rd, 2012
12:22 am

Bizarro World Post-Game interview, IF Matthew Stafford had played for Ga Tech and Calvin Johnson had played at UGA, with nothing else in the world having changed:

Reporter: What would you have said at the start of the season if someone had told you Megatron would break Jerry Rice’s receiving yards record this year?

Stafford: I would have asked what our record was first.

Reported: Oh, 4-11 after 15 games.

Stafford: Oh, well I would have said it comes with reason because I would have guessed we would always be behind and I would always throw 50-60 times a game … and Calvin would be getting a lot of trash yards.

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:22 am

Michael “The Turtle” Turner
December 23rd, 2012
12:20 am

Can’t ya’ll see I ain’t getting a whole lot of blocking up front?

Can’t u see u need to get your fat a$$ cut? Lol

1990_Champs_GT

December 23rd, 2012
12:26 am

Well, at least I can rest easy tomorrow.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Back 2 The Brown Paper Bags

December 23rd, 2012
12:27 am

beirmann’s wife thinks he has a future in football…. shes spent all of his money !!

Michael "The Turtle" Turner

December 23rd, 2012
12:30 am

I’m just not getting the ball enough. So what if 9 out 10 carries go for no gain. It’s that 10th carry that I break out for a 12 yard gainer that earns my paycheck.

Fan since 66

December 23rd, 2012
12:30 am

@ Intellectual Ninja 11:49 Just wondering what info you have that you know Mike Smith is the one demanding that Turner runs the ball. I’m pretty sure that the OC is calling the plays. I find it hard to believe that Mike Smith picks up the headset and calls a Turner run play. We are doing what all teams do. You prod the Dline for weaknesses, and if you discover them, you exploit them. The Falcons have obviously changed their offensive mindset to a pass oriented game. With the weapons we have, we would be idiots not to use our wide-outs predominately. Just my humble opinion, but it is what it is. Either way, you can’t argue with success!
Go Falcons!

JSS

December 23rd, 2012
12:32 am

There is I never answer certain people asking stupid questions, Thanks Boo Boo…
And thank you Matthew Stafford!!!
“Stafford: Oh, well I would have said it comes with reason because I would have guessed we would always be behind and I would always throw 50-60 times a game … and Calvin would be getting a lot of trash yards.”

Put in Timeout by Ken Suguira,Filtered by Mark Bradley, Banned by Bill King, Chip Towers & only slightly loved by Jeff Schultz.

December 23rd, 2012
12:36 am

The Playoffs will be full of rookie, young or inexperienced Starting QB’s I think that is Great for the Falcons.

meme

December 23rd, 2012
12:40 am

back 2, go to bed! your brain’s exhausted!!…jeez! what a idiot!

Eric

December 23rd, 2012
12:42 am

The running game is a concern to be sure. I can’t say I would be overly confident if say GB were to revisit us in the divisional round of the playoffs but I really do think this team (with Koetter and Nolan) is ready to make a move in the playoffs. I said at the start of the season that only an NFC title game would be considered a success for this team and I really do believe they will get there. My biggest concern to be honest is running into Peyton and the Broncos in the SB. That would be a bad omen…

Eric C.

December 23rd, 2012
12:43 am

Hoping the Falcons get to face Washington, Seattle, then Cincinnati for SB! lol

ramguy68

December 23rd, 2012
12:44 am

You can tell that many posters here don’t watch a lot of football except for the Falcons. If they did they would know that every team doesn’t look like world beaters for every play in every game.The Lions have played a lot of good teams close this year. The Falcons jumped on them early and then when the Lions thought they were back in it, the Falcons drove down the field and scored a demoralizing TD …just like good teams do. The general public just doesn’t know anything about football.

Eric C.

December 23rd, 2012
12:45 am

@Eric, you would think we were the same people…scary

Eric C.

December 23rd, 2012
12:48 am

ramguy68, I’ve seen enough to know that it would be nice to have a defense more like the 49ers than the Saints