Atlanta Falcons try to go 4-0 before Super Bowl rematch with New England Patriots

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 25, 2017 at 7:40 PM
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons found a win in Detroit on a controversial weekend with reigning most valuable player Matt Ryan, not on top of his game.

"What a team effort yesterday," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said on Monday. "I was really pumped about the defense and its resiliency, coming back and making some stops in some really opportune times. We knew it was going to take everything (we had)."

The Falcons will host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday before receiving the early bye week. After the bye, they will face the New England Patriots on the road in a rematch of Super Bowl LI, a game they led 28-3 before losing 34-28 in overtime.

"There's no doubt that we have to be better with the ball," Quinn said.

Ryan opened on fire against the Lions, but cooled off and threw three interceptions that the Lions used to rally and nearly pull out the victory.

He was having his way with the Lions' defense until free safety Glover Quinn stepped in front of his 17th pass attempt and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.

Ryan hadn't thrown an interception over his last 211 passes. He was victimized on the other two when running back Tevin Coleman and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu had passes clank off their hands and into the waiting arms of Darius Slay.

"It comes down to taking care of the football, for sure," Ryan said. "We talk about that all the time. When you're minus-3 in the turnover differential, it's tough to overcome that. We were able to do it (against the Lions), but that's certainly something that we have to clean up moving forward."

Ryan hadn't thrown three interceptions in a game since doing it against Indianapolis in a 24-21 loss on Nov. 22, 2015. Ryan has thrown at least three interceptions in a game eight times during his career. Ryan was 24 of 35 for 294 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a 77.6 passer rating.

Ryan opened the game by throwing a bomb to Julio Jones that was incomplete. The Falcons called pass plays on nine of the first 12 plays in the opening drive, which culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Sanu.

After the Falcons loosened up the Lions with all of those passes, the offensive line was able to maul them in the running game. Running back Devonta Freeman rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries and scored a touchdown and Coleman rushed for 46 yards on six carries.

"I'll just say we're getting better and better every week," Freeman said. "You know what I mean? It's a process, and next week we're going to get better. And we're going to rest the next week, and the next week coming back, we're going to try to continue to get better."

Freeman caught three passes for 32 yards and Coleman had three for 43 yards. Combined, the running backs had 33 touches from scrimmage for 227 yards and a touchdown.

"I thought we played well offensively," Ryan said. "Our offensive line did a fantastic job today, we ran the ball extremely efficiently, had some explosive chunk runs."

Right tackle Ty Sambrailo, who was starting for Ryan Schraeder, gave up two sacks, but overall Ryan was pleased.

"They did a great job in pass protection against a defense who's been getting a lot of pass pressure, pass rush the first two weeks," Ryan said. "So, I was proud of the way our offensive line played."

Jones caught seven passes on 12 targets for 91 yards. But slot receiver Taylor Gabriel had an electrifying 40-yard touchdown on a screen pass. He finished with five catches for 79 yards.

"It was good to have Taylor (Gabriel) back, he really made some plays today," Quinn said. "I thought on third downs, a nice touchdown on the screen, so for him, dealing with an injury in the offseason, it was awesome to see him back in action today. Kind of looking how all of us are accustomed to seeing that kind of speed."

The Falcons' offense recorded a season high 428 total yards, including 151 yards on the ground, also a season high. It was the second straight game the Falcons had rushed for more than 125 yards.

The Falcons also had two scoring drives of 10 plays or more, and now have seven drives of 10 plays or more this season.


For Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe, it was a simple decision to kneel during the national anthem on Sunday after President Donald Trump referred to any NFL player who has protested racial and social injustice by taking a knee as a "son of bitch."

"I felt like me, myself, Grady Jarrett is the son of a Queen and that's my message," Jarrett said after the game.

Jarrett had been thinking about protesting for a while, but the comments by Trump pushed him to do more.

"My spirit moved me in a way and it was on my mind," Jarrett said. "It was on my mind man, and ... it is so awesome because having the support of your brothers and support of an organization like this, this has been, this is truly a blessing. It's truly a blessing. And I'm just thankful."

Poe knelt to make a statement against racial and social injustice in the country and said he intended no disrespect to the flag or the military.

"I know people (in the military)," Poe said. "I have a girl friend who's in the Air Force. She's in the reserves now. I'm not disrespecting that at all. I wouldn't disrespect her like that. At the same time, I felt it wasn't disrespecting the flag, but I was just standing up for what I believe in."

Poe said he was moved by teammate Adrian Clayborn's speech about the diversity on the team and how he wished the country was like the Falcons' locker room. The team often refers to itself as "The Brotherhood."

"He put it in such great words," Poe said. "It was something that I paid close attention to. It was all truth in it. Basically, he wishes the outside world was like our locker room, with people of all different colors and creeds ... we're fighting together. We are a Brotherhood.

"We don't look at nothing else but that. He said he wished the world was like that and that it would be much better place. I totally agree with him."

Clayborn was the only player on the team to respond to the tweets from President Trump. He spoke to the issues of privilege in the nation.

"It so diverse in football," Clayborn said. "We come from everywhere and it's a shame we can't all get along. I wish we could be like that, but it probably will never be. If it was, it would be a way better place."


Teams across the league protested President Trump and labeled his tweets "divisive" to the fabric of the country. Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Lions owner Martha Ford, who is 92 years old, both stood on the sidelines with their teams.

"I'm not going to lie," Clayborn said. "It was hard pre-game, just trying to focus on the actual game. But once it started I was locked in. Thank God I got my brain locked in. When you get so much hate and so many people hate your guts because of something you believe in, it's crazy. But we locked in. We got it done."

Clayborn, who is from St. Louis where they've had two police officers acquitted in high-profile shooting cases of African-Americans, has become the socially conscious member of the team.

"It was a team meeting," Clayborn said. "It's our brotherhood coming together. People are saying nasty things about us and we have to stick together. It's coming in hot."

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn stood during the national anthem and supported having Blank on the field with the team.

"I'd like to recognize Arthur being down on the field with the team prior to the game and showing his solidarity for not just the Falcons, but for the NFL in general," Quinn said. "He continues to demonstrate what a class act he is to all of the players and staff and coaches. We really appreciate him."

Blank was fine with players' decisions.

"What they do is their choice," Blank said. "I'm supportive of our players. I'm certainly supportive of their rights to express their freedom of speech. I don't think ... the people that fought for this country going back several hundred years primarily weren't fighting for geography. They were fighting for way of life, and part of that is reflected in the freedom of speech and the ability to speak up and speak out on issues."

Blank was not pleased with the comments of President Trump about players who have elected to kneel during the national anthem.

"It's unfortunate that the president chose to go in that direction and speak out the way he has," Blank said. "Love conquers and that kind of divisiveness and calling out accomplishes nothing, satisfies nothing."


Blank was not one of seven NFL owners who donated $1 million to Trump's campaign. Blank was a strong supporter of President Barack Obama.

Players around the league have been protesting social and racial injustice in the country.

"The issues that they point to are legitimate issues," Blank said. "They need to be talked about it. We need to make progress as a country moving forward with them. We don't do it by creating walls. We don't build walls. That doesn't create better listening or better responses or connections."

Blank noted that the Falcons are one of the busiest teams when it comes to doing community service.

"I think our players love this country," Blank said. "They not only play this game, but they work their fannies off physically and financially giving back in a variety of ways to our communities throughout the National Football League. We are the first to step up and do very significant things. They do it day in and day out. I see it every day with our players."

Blank believes the players' issues should be addressed.

"Opening up thoughtful and positive discussions based on inclusiveness and not based on divisiveness," Blank said. "Divisiveness is never going to solve anything in a positive way. It never has in the history of this country."


The Falcons held the Lions to 71 rushing yards and sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford twice.

Defensive end Adrian Clayborn recorded his second sack of the season.

Rookie defensive end Takk McKinley recorded his first career sack.

The defense has recorded a sack in 18 straight games.

The defense also recorded five hits on the quarterback and they currently are tied for first in the NFL with 22 hits on the quarterback.

NOTES: K Matt Bryant went three-for-three on field goals, including two 40-plus-yard field goals. Bryant is first in the league with eight made field goals.


WR Julio Jones had seven catches for 91 yards, but sustained a back injury. He's limited in practice, but is expected to play against Buffalo. ... FS Ricardo Allen is in the league's concussion protocol. ... RT Ryan Schraeder is in the league's concussion protocol and head coach Dan Quinn hopes to have him back for the Buffalo game. ... RB Devonta Freeman crossed the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. He also scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the season and 27th of his career. The Falcons are 16-2 when Freeman rushes for a touchdown. He finished the game with 21 carries for 106 yards. ... RB Tevin Coleman had 89 total yards. He and Freeman combined for 227 total yards against the Lions. That is the seventh time the duo has reached 200-plus combined yards and the team is 7-0 when the two running backs reach that mark. ... WR Taylor Gabriel recorded his first touchdown reception of the season. The 40-yard touchdown catch was Gabriel's sixth career touchdown of 30-plus yards and his seventh touchdown reception of 25-plus yards.


--PASSING OFFENSE: B - Matt Ryan entered the game having not thrown an interception over his last 195 passes. He had 16 more attempts in the game without an interception before Lions free safety Glover Quinn stepped in front of a pass intended for Julio Jones and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. Lions cornerback Darius Slay intercepted Ryan in the third quarter and picked off another one that bounced of Mohamed Sanu's hands. Ty Sambrailo was overpowered twice in pass protection and gave up two sacks while subbing for Ryan Schraeder, who is in the concussion protocol. Ryan hadn't thrown three interceptions in a game since doing it against Indianapolis in a 24-21 loss on Nov. 22, 2015. Ryan has thrown at least three interceptions in a game eight times over his career. Ryan was 24 of 35 for 294 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus - Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman gashed the Lions early and that opened up things for the offense. Freeman added his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. The Falcons found some success running inside against the Lions, who were without rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis. Freeman rushed 21 times for 106 yards and one touchdown. Tevin Coleman added 46 yards rushing on six carries.

--PASS DEFENSE: B - Lions wide receiver Golden Tate was flanked out to the left and came across the middle with the Falcons playing zone. He caught the ball and scored the Lions' first offensive touchdown from 11 yards out with 4:51 left in the third quarter to make the score 23-20. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Takkarist McKinley had a sack each. McKinley tipped Stafford's pass on third down in the fourth quarter that forced Detroit to settle for a field goal. Tate was stopped by Brian Poole on the game's final play at the 1-yard line.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A - The Falcons held Lions running back Ameer Abdullah in check. He was coming off rushing for a career-high 86 yards against the Giants. He rushed 14 times for 47 yards. The strong play against the run kept the Lions out of the red zone until under 7:00 was left in the third quarter.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Matt Bryant made all of his extra points and field goals of 36, 48 and 40 yards. The kickoff return team was stuffed in the third quarter after the Lions closed to within three, 23-20. Matt Bosher didn't have his first punt until there was 3:26 left in the game. Andre Roberts had a 27-yard punt return and a 38-yard kickoff return.

--COACHING: B-plus - The coaching staff was able to get the team focused enough to win on the road during a controversial weekend. The defense made enough plays and had three stops down the stretch to secure the win after the offense started to sputter. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian came out throwing. He called passes on nine of the first 12 plays. Ryan completed eight and was sacked on one.

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