Observations: Lions 22, Falcons 21

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 26: Golden Tate #15 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass during the NFL match between Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium on October 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 26: Golden Tate #15 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass during the NFL match between Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium on October 26, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Here’s what I saw during the Lions thrilling comeback victory over the Falcons in London.

Offense

First Half:

  • The Lions entered the game without their top three tight ends, Calvin Johnson (missing his third straight game) and Reggie Bush.
  • Stafford threw behind an open Kellen Davis who was streaking down the field.
  • Golden Tate injured his lower back after taking two hard hits, but stayed in the game.
  • Down 14-0 in the second quarter, Jim Caldwell opted to punt instead of try a 54-yard field goal. With the Lions historic struggles in the kicking game (6 for 16 on FG tries between three different kickers), you can’t blame him for playing conservative.
  • Theo Riddick dropped a catchable (though low) pass on a slant route late in the 2Q.
  • Jeremy Ross hurdled a defender to convert a big third down to keep a drive alive.
  • The Lions drove to the Falcons 35-yard line, but Stafford threw a pass into the grass with Corey Fuller open in the middle of the field.
  • On the following play, Fuller slipped on his cut and Stafford’s pass was intercepted by Robert Alford to end the scoring chance.
  • Stafford was 9 of 20 for 85 yards with an interception in the half.
  • Troy Aikman made an interesting point during the broadcast talking about Stafford’s mechanics, remarking, “It’s hard to be accurate when you’re continually changing the launch angle of how you’re throwing the football.” Stafford has the tendency to alter his arm angle, which can get him into trouble.

Second Half:

  • Stafford fired a nice ball to Tate over the middle on third and nine for 28 yards.
  • There wasn’t much movement on the offensive line but Joique Bell fought hard and picked up tough yards. He showcased his powerful running style by breaking three tackles to convert a third-and-one run on the opening drive of the second half. He showed nice patience and vision to pick up 11 yards on a screen behind blocks from veteran center Dominic Raiola and guard Larry Warford. Later, he slipped a tackle and bulldozed his way to an 11-yard pickup on another screen. He’s always falling forward and fighting for extra yards.
  • The Lions dodged a bullet in the red zone when Falcons defensive lineman Tyson Jackson batted a Stafford pass to himself, but the ball slipped through his hands. Detroit settled for a field goal to finally get on the board.
  • The Lions started their ensuing drive on Atlanta’s 44, however two penalties put the Lions in third-and-25. The Falcons inexplicably lost track of Tate, Stafford bought himself time, spotted his new favorite target streaking down the right sideline and fired a missile for a 59-yard score.
  • Where would the Lions be without Tate? Certainly not 6-2. Tate had three 100-yard receiving games in four seasons in Seattle, yet has four 100+ yard games with the Lions in his last five contests. Tate racked up 151 yards on seven catches (15 targets) in this one and has quickly proved his worth as one of the best free agency signings this offseason. He is third in the NFL with 800 receiving yards on 55 receptions and three touchdowns. The former second-round pick is going to smash his career-high of 898 yards receiving as he’s on pace to catch 110 balls for 1600 yards.
  • After the Cassius Vaughn interception, Stafford had Tate open on a quick slant for a touchdown but the pass sailed high and the Lions were again forced to settle for a field goal inside the five-yard line.
  • Nice blocking by Fuller to allow Tate to pick up nine yards on a quick screen.
  • Good second effort from fullback Jed Collins to pick up two yards on third and one.
  • Nice play design by Joe Lombardi on the short touchdown toss to Riddick. Tate came into the backfield on the ghost-reverse, leaving the right side of the field vacant for Riddick. The safety responsible for him failed to recognize the running back leaking out of the backfield, easy pitch and catch for six.
  • On the two-point conversion attempt, the Lions ran a pick play trying to free Tate. Desmond Trufant hit Tate early but the refs missed the obvious call. Luckily for the Lions, it did not end up costing them. With the NFL’s heightened emphasis on calling illegal contact, it was a horrific no-call.
  • Fantastic throw and catch from Stafford to Tate on the first play of the game-winning drive. Stafford had pressure in his face but delivered a beautiful throw between three defenders, allowing Tate to high-point the ball for 32 yards. Tate showed his fearlessness by going up for the reception knowing he would take a hit.
  • Highlight reel one-handed catch by Riddick on an angle route over the middle. He has good quickness and could be more involved in the second half of the season, regardless of whether Bush is healthy or not.
  • I thought Lombardi was conservative once the Lions climbed into field goal range. With 34 seconds left and no timeouts, he had Bell ran into the line on two straight plays. I thought he could have attempted another pass to try to pickup an extra five or ten yards in order to make it easier on Matt Prater.
  • Prater’s 48-yard game winner would have been money from 60 yards; the guy has a tremendous leg and should be a weapon in tight games. He’s 22 of 29 for his career on kicks of 50 yards or more, 75.9 percent.

Defense

First Half:

  • The Lions were without backup defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, who was suspended for two weeks and sent home earlier in the week.
  • Atlanta started its third string center, undrafted rookie free agent James Stone.
  • The Lions were unable to apply pressure with a four-man rush and Matt Ryan picked them apart, completing 9 of 10 for 104 yards and two touchdowns on the first two drives.
  • Ryan beat the blitz with a quick pass in the flat to rookie running back Devonta Freeman, who slipped a tackle and scored from seven yards out.
  • Nick Fairley injured his right knee early in the second quarter after colliding with Ndamukong Suh while rushing the quarterback.
  • Rookie fifth round pick out of Princeton Caraun Reid replaced Fairley. Reid had played just 50 snaps on defense through the first seven games, but played 35 snaps in this one.
  • Rashean Mathis had an incredible 103-yard interception return called back because of his defensive pass interference against Falcons wideout Julio Jones. Five plays later, Steven Jackson rumbled in for a one-yard touchdown to extend Atlanta’s lead to 21-0.
  • Ryan finished the half 14 of 17 for 160 yards and two TDs.

Second Half:

  • The Lions came out of the locker room juiced up as the defense was flying around on the Falcons opening possession. Jason Jones forced Ryan to fumble with his sack on first down, the line stuffed Jackson on second and Jones came on a stunt to influence an incompletion, forcing a three-and-out.
  • On Atlanta’s second third quarter possession, Mathis ripped the ball out of Roddy White’s hand after a first down completion but White recovered. On the next play, Ryan was pressured, threw across his body and was easily intercepted by cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who returned the ball 45 yards to the Falcons 7.
  • DeAndre Levy continues to fly around the field and make plays. He delivered a few big hits among his seven tackles.
  • Ziggy Ansah showed strength and excellent technique on his third down strip-sack of Ryan in the fourth. He powered into tackle Jake Matthews, then violently shoved the rookie aside to get around the edge and force the fumble.
  • Atlanta made two devastating mistakes on its final drive to lift the Lions off life support. First a holding penalty, then an inexplicable drop by Jones gave the Lions an extra 80 seconds or so. Instead of getting the ball back with about 25 seconds remaining, Stafford and the offense were gifted 1:38 starting at their own seven.

Contact Marlowe Alter via email: ma346508@ohio.edu

Twitter: @MarloweAlter

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