The Atlanta Falcons just needed to defeat the Detroit Lions in order to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and they did just that.
Matt Ryan led the Falcons (13-2) to a 31-18 victory, tossing four touchdown passes – two to Roddy White and one each to Julio Jones and Michael Palmer – in the process.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson needed 182 yards to beat Jerry Rice’s record of 1,848 receiving yards in a single season. Johnson finished the game with 225 yards on 11 receptions.
However, it the the seventh consecutive loss for the Lions (4-11) – a far cry from the team that made the playoffs last year.
Atlanta jumped on Detroit immediately after Ryan threw three touchdown passes to take a 21-6 lead at the end of the first half. It was the third time the Falcons quarterback passed for three scores in a single half.
Ryan finished with 279 yards on 25 of 32 passing and no interceptions. For the second straight game, he finished with a passer rating of 142.6; since entering the league, Ryan is 32-1 when he has a passer rating over 100.
His four touchdown passes tied a career-high and marked the third time he’s accomplished that feat. For the season, Ryan has passed for a career-best 31 touchdowns. Those 31 touchdowns tie the franchise record set by Steve Bartkowski in 1980.
Ryan has also set career-highs in completions (394) and yards (4,481).
Matthew Stafford is primed to shatter the NFL record for attempts in a season set by Drew Bledsoe. The record is 691, and Stafford currently sits at 683 with one game left.
He’s 305 yards away from his second consecutive 5,000-yard season, but he has passed for only 17 touchdowns. To make matters worse, he has 16 interceptions. Last season, Stafford finished with 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.
Although White was questionable with a knee injury, he totaled eight receptions for 153 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He caught a 44-yard bomb from Ryan over former Falcons cornerback Chris Houston to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. He followed that up by taking a screen pass 39 yards for the score in the second.
Ryan connected with Jones for a 16-yard, toe-tapping touchdown, and the Falcons were rolling.
Detroit began a mini-comeback in the second half by scoring 10 unanswered points to cut the score to 21-16, but Ryan connected with backup tight end Michael Palmer for a one-yard touchdown to make the score 28-16.
The Falcons followed the touchdown up with a 20-yard field goal from Matt Bryant, and the Lions couldn’t recover despite tackling Michael Turner in the end zone for a safety.
Stafford finished the game with 443 yards on 37 of 56 passing, throwing zero touchdowns and an interception to Asante Samuel.
The last time the Falcons notched the top playoff seed was in 2010. Their blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers is well-documented.
Atlanta hopes this time will be different. They will remain at home for the rest of the season.
Next up: Atlanta hosts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s doubtful the starters will play the entire game as they prepare for the playoffs.