If recent history is any indication, we’re in for a memorable finish when the Detroit Lions travel to Atlanta for a post-Christmas matchup with the Falcons. The last three times the two franchises have met, dating back to 2014, the closing sequences have been anything but standard fare.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
Oct. 26, 2014
Off to a 5-2 start to the season under first-year coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions made their first trip overseas to battle the struggling 2-5 Falcons in London.
The script hardly played out as expected as Atlanta jumped out to a 21-point lead at the half behind the stellar play of quarterback Matt Ryan. Through two quarters, he completed 14 of his 17 passes, to seven different receivers, for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, counterpart Matthew Stafford was struggling, completing fewer than 50% of his throws and tossing an interception near the end of the second quarter in Falcons’ territory, squashing a chance to put some points on the board before the break.
Coming out of the locker room, the Lions managed to flip the momentum, breaking the shutout with a 15-play scoring drive. And after the defense scored a three-and-out, Stafford connected on a 59-yard touchdown bomb to Golden Tate to trim the lead to 11 late in the third quarter.
The Lions added another field goal early in the fourth quarter after a 45-yard interception return by cornerback Cassius Vaughn, then sliced the lead to two with four minutes remaining when Stafford capped a 13-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown toss to running back Theo Riddick.
After failing on the two-point conversion attempt, the Lions needed and got another defensive stop, giving the offense the ball back with 1:38 remaining. And as he’s done throughout his career, Stafford steered the team into position to cap the comeback.
Spiking the ball at the 25-yard line to stop the clock with four seconds remaining, highly reliable kicker Matt Prater just needed to knock down a 43-yard field goal to complete the rally. Yet hope was seemingly lost when a low snap resulted in Prater’s effort drifting wide right. But luck was on the Lions side that day as the snap was late, resulting in a delay of game penalty and another chance. Prater didn’t waste it, drilling the 48-yarder and completing one of the largest comebacks in franchise history.
Sept. 24, 2017
A year after setting an NFL record with eight fourth-quarter comebacks, and scoring another in the season-opener of the 2017 campaign, the Lions had a well-defined reputation for being difficult to put away. But this was one comeback that would fall short, while introducing the fan base to the dreaded 10-second runoff.
Much like the London game three years earlier, the Falcons once again jumped out to a big lead in the first half, gaining a 17-3 advantage midway through the second quarter. But that lead was sliced to seven by the half, thanks to a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Glover Quin.
The teams traded blows into the second half with the Lions briefly knotting things up late in the third quarter with a 35-yard Prater field goal, only to see the Falcons regain the lead less than two minutes later when Ryan found speedy receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 40-yard touchdown.
Prater quickly got the Lions back within four with a 57-yard field goal before both offenses went cold, combining in three drives ending in punts and Ryan tossing this third interception of the day.
Detroit got one final chance, taking over at their own 11-yard line with 2:23 left, but no timeouts after using them to stop the clock on their previous defensive possession. But time didn’t look like it would be an issue after Stafford hooked up with T.J. Jones for 29 yards on the drive’s second play, putting the Lions in Falcons territory with 1:50 remaining.
Two completions and an 11-yard Stafford scramble later and Detroit found itself in the red zone, but back-to-back penalties suddenly had them facing an unenviable first-and-30. Desperation led Stafford to throw an interception in the end zone, but the turnover was negated by a defensive holding call against Atlanta, giving the Lions new life and fresh set of downs.
Another defensive penalty, pass interference in the end zone, set the Lions up with first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 19 seconds remaining. With another comeback on the cusp of completion, Stafford threw incompletions on first and second down before finding Golden Tate on a slant on third. The receiver rolled into the end zone and the official signaled touchdown, seemingly giving the Lions the win.
But the automatic review of the score would show Tate was touched down by the defender short of the goal line, and because the Lions didn’t have any timeouts and the clock would have kept running, the rules called for a 10-second runoff. With fewer than 10 seconds on the clock when Tate was touched, the review automatically ended the game, stunning the home crowd.
Oct. 25, 2020
After a sluggish start to the 2020 season, the Lions had a prime opportunity to climb back to .500 against a struggling Falcons team that entered the day 1-4 and had fired both their coach and general manager early in the month.
But nothing ever came easy for the Lions during the Matt Patricia era and this would be no different. After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, the Lions fell behind, 14-7, after surrendering a pair of lengthy touchdown drives in the second quarter.
A defensive stop in the red zone and three long field goals by Prater — 50, 51 and 49 yards — saw the Lions take a two-point lead in the fourth quarter. But Ryan caught fire on the ensuing drive, completing five straight passes into field goal range. The game appeared over after the Lions used their final timeout and Falcons running back Todd Gurley converted a third-and-1 deep in Detroit territory. The Falcons could just take a couple of knees and kick the short field goal to finish the job.
Instead, Gurley took a handoff up the gut and failed to stop his momentum short of the end zone, scoring an ill-advised touchdown with 1:12 remaining.
That gave Stafford a shot to lead a comeback and the Lions quarterback capitalized on the opportunity, driving the Lions 75 yards in 64 seconds. A 22-yard pass to Danny Amendola moved the ball across midfield and a 29-yard sliding grab by Kenny Golladay set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson as time expired.