The Lions defense is still built on the strength of its line, and the unit overcame the loss of two key players to stymy the Falcons in the second half.
With C.J. Mosley suspended and Nick Fairley suffering a gruesome knee injury in the second quarter, Ndamukong Suh played even more than usual, but it was the ends who helped account for the missing pieces.
On one third-quarter drive, Jason Jones almost single-handedly forced a three-and-out with a sack-fumble on first down and a quarterback hit on Matt Ryan on third down to rush the pass.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ziggy Ansah forced a punt with a sack-fumble of his own. The Lions forced three fumbles, but couldn’t recover any of them.
“The defensive line, we understand we got a great group and guys got to step up,” Suh said. “We're a band of brothers, we're linked to each other for life and we understand that.”
Jim Caldwell thinks halftime speeches are blown out of proportion, and he said he told the players “nothing unusual” down 21-0 at the break.
“We just talked about the things we were capable of doing, didn’t need anything special, didn’t need any extra effort,” he said. “Our effort was good. We just needed to play the way we know how to play.”
Apparently, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin doesn’t share Caldwell’s feelings as defensive players said he gave the unit a rousing speech.
“I can’t repeat that one,” Jones said when asked for Austin’s message. “Just know he lit a fire under us. Just say that.”
Because the Lions won, Falcons coach Mike Smith will receive most of the heat following the game, but Lions coach Caldwell was doing his part to give the game away, too.
The Falcons ran out the final 1:14 of the first half for no good reason, especially with how well the offense moved while taking a 21-0 lead.
“We did not want to turn the football over,” Smith said.
Fearful is no way to play a football game, yet the Lions didn’t display much confidence either. On their second drive, they punted from the Atlanta 37 down 14-0. Down 21-0 in the third quarter, the Lions kicked a field goal from the Atlanta 4.
The real fun started on the final drive as the coaches exchanged questionable decisions. With the Lions facing 3rd-and-9 at the Atlanta 30, Smith called a time out, stopping the clock even though the Lions couldn’t.
Then, the Lions ran the ball, clearly settling for a long field goal in which Matt Prater would’ve had to run onto the field with 17 seconds left, but an Atlanta penalty bailed them out. Matthew Stafford then took a knee before spiking with 5 seconds left, creating one more play that could’ve led to a game-ending penalty.
“We didn’t want to risk a handoff or anything of that nature,” he said of the kneel, though that’s counterintuitive to the third-down run.
Cassius Vaughn caught his first interception of 2014 Sunday on what could’ve been the worst pass of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s career.
Late in the third quarter on a first down at the Atlanta 47, Ryan scrambled left, looked back right and threw a pass to the right without a Falcons player in sight. Vaughn was right there, though, to grab the ball and returned it 45 yards to the 7, and he would’ve scored if not for Julio Jones chasing him down.
Despite how the play appeared, Vaughn was not wearing any red on Sunday.
“I had on all white,” Vaughn said. “My swag was nice out there.