Justin Rogers’ Lions grades: Matthew Stafford, D-line steal the show in stunner

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

Atlanta — Justin Rogers grades the Detroit Lions’ performance in their 23-22 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.


The last time Matthew Stafford played a game in the state of Georgia, he was still in college. And while he didn’t come close to matching the five touchdowns he threw that contest, he was still excellent in this victory. Yes, he threw for 340 yards, but it was his command in the closing moments of both halves that make this a performance to remember for the longtime Lions signal-caller. The game-winning throw to T.J. Hockenson, under duress, was the icing on the cake. Grade: A

Running backs

D’Andre Swift continues to make a case for a bigger percentage of the backfield workload. He had a critical stretch during an early touchdown drive, carrying it four times for 27 yards. And he added another 24-yard gain that was wiped out by a holding penalty. The only downside to his day was a badly blown blitz pickup that led to a sack. 

On the other end of the rotation, Adrian Peterson has struggled to maintain his early-season momentum. He finished with 29 yards on 11 carries and was stopped multiple times in short-yardage situations. Grade: C-

Wide receivers/tight ends

Kenny Golladay continues to make wow play after wow play. He topped 100 yards once again, catching six of the seven balls thrown his direction. But none were more important than his 29-yard grab in the closing seconds to set up Hockenson’s game-winner. 

That grab by Detroit’s top tight end made up for a critical error earlier in the drive when he failed to get out of bounds, keeping the clock running unnecessarily. 

In total, four Lions had over 50 yards receiving. Danny Amendola should have had more than his 62 yards, but he dropped a third-down pass that would have extended a drive early in the game. The veteran also made a foolish error for getting flagged for removing his helmet while celebrating Hockenson’s touchdown, making the game-winning extra point much more difficult than it needed to be. Grade: B+

Offensive line

The run blocking wasn’t great, leading to a subpar average of 3 yards per carry.  Additionally, Stafford took six hits, with superstar defensive tackle Grady Jarrett accounting for four of them. Grade: C-

Defensive line

The defensive front built on their stellar performance from a week ago in Jacksonville by  bottling up Falcons running back Todd Gurley much of the afternoon, while getting a decent amount of pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan. 

Romeo Okwara has gone under the radar much of the year, but he’s really coming into his own as a young pass-rusher. He came up with two big sacks in this one, forcing a fumble on the second that allowed the Lions to regain the lead late in the fourth quarter. 

Trey Flowers recovered that fumble, which was his second biggest play in the second half. The veteran defensive end also broke up a fourth-down pass deep in Lions territory to end a scoring threat. Grade: A-


Detroit’s linebackers played their part slowing up the Falcons on the ground, while Jarrad Davis provided a spark as a pass-rusher in his biggest role since his playing time has been reduced. Grade: B


All things considered, the Lions’ defensive backfield did a nice job limiting the impact of the Falcons’ explosive passing attack. Sure, Julio Jones nearly had 100 yards, while Calvin Ridley had 69 yards, a touchdown and drew a pass interference leading to another score, but no one is going to shut this group down completely. It was a completely respectable performance, especially given the youth of Detroit’s cornerbacks. Grade: B+

Special teams

Matt Prater has built a lengthy resume for being reliable in the closing minutes of close games, so it was stunning to see him badly miss a 46-yard attempt that would have given the Lions the lead midway through the fourth quarter. But he more than made up for it with field goals from 50, 51 and 49 yards, as well as the game-winning PAT from 48 yards out after Amendola’s penalty. 

Punter Jack Fox also rebounded following his worst performance of the year, averaging 52.3 yards per net on his three boots. That includes a deduction for a touchback after he boomed one 67 yards! Grade: B+


While you can easily write off a good defensive showing against Jacksonville, it’s far more difficult to dismiss what the unit was able to do against a Falcons team that was averaging better than 35 points a game when Jones played start to finish this season.

While the group will need to continue to prove itself each week to quiet its detractors, things really appear to be trending in a positive direction for Detroit’s defense. 

Offensively, the Lions reverted back to some of the inefficiencies that have plagued them. And while it’s easy to appreciate the aggressiveness of going for it on fourth down in the red zone, the play call was a bad one and led to a turnover on downs.

Lastly, even though it didn’t have an impact in the outcome because it resulted in Prater’s lone miss, the decision to stall and successfully challenge the Falcons having too many men on the field to extend a drive was a masterful use of the red flag. Grade: B+


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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