Rogers: Lions' never-say-die will shines through in defeat

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions' Golden Tate celebrates his touchdown with a quick game of curling in the third quarter.

First down

This loss stung, especially with the way it went down, but it still speaks positively to where the Lions are in the pecking order of the NFC. Despite missing some key players, they went toe-to-toe with arguably the best the conference has to offer.

The eye test will tell you the Atlanta Falcons were the better team, and had they not shot themselves in the foot with a couple of drops that turned into interceptions, maybe it’s another story. But you can always play the what-if game. That’s what happened. When the Lions needed a defensive stop, something they struggled to get all day without a turnover, they got two late in the fourth quarter.

This continues to be a team that’s never out of it. And the impact of that is fans are slowly starting to believe the Lions are going to pull out any game that’s close in the final minutes. That’s the opposite of how it used to be, where everyone waited to see how the team could blow it each week.

Lions' Eric Ebron reverts to butter-fingered ways

And while this loss was quintessential Lions, a goofy ruling going against them, it doesn’t shatter the confidence this Lions team is building, both in itself and from its fans. 

Second down

It’s amazing how quickly Jarrad Davis has become an integral cog in Detroit’s defense. The first-round rookie middle linebacker already provides two invaluable things — first, he sets the tone with his physicality and intensity. Second, he’s the team’s best run-stopping linebacker.

Without Davis, and safety Tavon Wilson, Detroit struggled to clog the run lanes and the Falcons gashed them on the ground, almost at will. While there’s no timetable that can be attached to a concussion, the team needs Davis back as quickly as possible.

Third down

While the absence of Davis was noticeable, the Lions did a pretty good job covering up for center Travis Swanson, who was out with an ankle injury.

First, how tough is Swanson? Sure, he couldn’t go this week, but he played more than three quarters on that ankle injury last week against the Giants, not missing a snap. Tip of the cap there.

Against the Falcons, not only was Swanson out, but so was top backup Joe Dahl. That left Detroit to plug in Zac Kerin, a recent waiver claim, in at left guard, while moving Graham Glasgow at center. That’s a tough adjustment against a talented defensive interior like the Falcons offer. But all things considered, the makeshift group held their own.

Justin Rogers' Lions grades: Special teams stand out in sour loss

And it reminds us, no matter how well you prepare, how much you invest in a position group, injuries are going to happen.

The Lions went to war without their two best linemen from last season and didn’t fall apart.

Fourth down

However you want to look at it, whether luck or capitalizing on opportunity, the Lions have continued to generate turnovers, something they struggled to do in 2016.

Matt Ryan hadn’t been picked off in nine consecutive games, if you count last year’s three playoff appearances. He hadn’t thrown multiple interceptions since November 2015. The Lions got him three times.

Detroit is now plus-6 in the turnover column through three games, thanks to the offense also doing its part and taking care of the ball.  There aren’t many more important stats in football. If the Lions can continue to win this category consistently, they have an excellent shot of winning the division.

Twitter: @justin_rogers