Falcons hold off Lions to stay unbeaten
DETROIT — Brian Poole was sure he touched Golden Tate before he reached the end zone. Poole had no idea that would be the last play of the game.
The cornerback contacted Tate’s shoulder as the wide receiver’s knee hit the turf just shy of the goal line, allowing the Atlanta Falcons to escape with a 30-26 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field.
The officials originally ruled that Tate had scored on a 1-yard pass from Matthew Stafford with eight seconds remaining, but a replay review overturned that call. A 10-second runoff was required and since the Lions were out of timeouts, the game was over.
“I had a feeling his knee was down,” Poole said. “I was just upset they called it a touchdown so early. I wasn’t surprised (it was overturned) because I knew that I touched him.”
Poole wasn’t aware of the runoff rule and that the officials would declare the game over. The Lions (2-1) would have needed to line up, snap the ball and run a play because it would have been fourth down.
“I’m definitely happy about that rule right now,” Poole said.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan connected with Taylor Gabriel for a 40-yard, go-ahead scoring strike on the first play of the fourth quarter. That proved to be the game-winning score.
Ryan completed 24 of 35 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns, but was also picked off three times. Devonta Freeman gained 106 yards on 21 carries and scored a touchdown. Gabriel caught five passes for 79 yards, while Julio Jones added 91 receiving yards on seven catches for the Falcons (3-0).
“Awesome win. It came down to the end, a dogfight,” Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “As I turned my head on the last play, I saw that it was down. I was just praying and hoping we got an opportunity to challenge or review or whatever the case may be.”
Stafford completed 25 of 45 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. Tate caught seven passes for 58 yards and a score.
“It’s not fun. Obviously, I wish I would’ve thrown it a foot higher, maybe help GT stay up,” Stafford said. “It’s a game of inches. Tough one to lose, great effort from our team, awesome effort from our defense. Offensively, we have to convert a little more on third downs early and when our defense gets us turnovers we have to put some points on the board.”
Safety Glover Quin scored on a 37-yard interception return and cornerback Darius Slay picked off two passes for Detroit. Matt Prater contributed four field goals.
Matt Bryant’s 40-yard field goal early in the third quarter gave the Falcons a 23-13 lead.
Detroit tied it before the end of the quarter. Stafford’s 11-yard scoring pass to Tate pulled the Lions (2-1) within three points and Prater made a 35-yard field goal. The latter was set up by Slay’s interception.
The Falcons regained the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. Gabriel caught a short pass over the middle, cut to his left and outran the secondary on the 40-yard scoring play.
Prater drilled a 57-yard field goal with 11:48 remaining to make it 30-26.
The Lions forced a punt just before the two-minute warning and got the ball back at their own 11. A 28-yard completion to TJ Jones moved the Lions beyond midfield. Detroit got as close as the Atlanta 18, but two penalties sidetracked the drive.
A defensive holding penalty against cornerback Desmond Trufant wiped out an interception. A pass interference call against Trufant put the Lions on the 1, but two incompletions followed before Tate’s catch just inches from the goal line.
“Win some, you lose some. You lose some at the end of the game,” Slay said. “A couple of years ago against Green Bay, we lost on a Hail Mary on the last play. That’s the NFL. It happens. You’ve got to live with it.”
Atlanta led 20-13 at halftime.
NOTES: Lions president Ron Wood said head coach Jim Caldwell’s contract extension, which was revealed on Saturday, was decided long ago. “We did that at the end of last season to get it behind us and focus on football,” he said. ... Both teams were missing key players. The Falcons played without their top pass rusher, LB Vic Beasley Jr. (hamstring), as well as T Ryan Schraeder (concussion) and DE Courtney Upshaw (ankle, knee). The Lions were missing MLB Jarrad Davis (concussion), C Travis Swanson (ankle), S Tavon Wilson (shoulder) and RB Dwayne Washington (quad). ... Atlanta has won three of the last four meetings. ... Detroit K Matt Prater now has 11 career field goals of at least 55 yards, second in NFL history to Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski (13).