Matt Ryan ran and threw for touchdowns to give Atlanta a double-digit lead in the first half, and the Falcons held on to win 23-16 in Detroit on Sunday.
The Falcons (4-3) won consecutive games for the first time this season because they finally played well in all three phases on the same day.
“Good teams go on streaks,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “You can’t just keep yo-yoing up and down.”
The Lions (5-2) have lost their luster with back-to-back losses – both at home – after their perfect start. Their formerly fired-up fans have started to boo, moan and groan.
“We don’t deserve their cheers if we’re going to play like that,” Lions guard Rob Sims said. “It’s just that simple.”
The Lions had a chance to get Ford Field back on their side.
But on Detroit’s final drive, a pass-interference penalty against Atlanta was overturned because instant replay showed defensive tackle Corey Peters had slightly grazed the ball.
“I didn’t see the tip, but the guys in the booth were in my ear about it right away,” Smith said. “With less than 2 minutes, we had to rely on the officials, but they did a great job. They didn’t let the Lions snap the ball, so the replay official could get a good look, and they made the right call.”
Instead of having the ball at the Falcons 26, the Lions were backed up to the 41 and former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an incomplete pass on the next play to turn it over on downs and injured his right ankle, knee – or both.
“To tell the truth I can’t really tell right now,” Stafford said.
Stafford said he was going to try to play if Detroit’s defense got the ball back, but the Falcons picked up a first down and ran out the clock.
Ryan’s 1-yard plunge and 18-yard pass to Roddy White put Atlanta ahead 17-6 at halftime.
Calvin Johnson, a standout at Georgia Tech, caught his 10th touchdown pass late in the third quarter – to pull Detroit within four points – and finished with five receptions for 115 yards.
Matt Bryant’s third field goal gave the Falcons a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter on a drive extended when safety Louis Delmas was called for holding on fourth down.
The Lions, who struggled against Atlanta’s aggressive defense all day, had the ball at their 13 with 3:20 to go and three timeouts left with a chance to send the game into overtime.
Stafford converted a fourth down with a pass to Brandon Pettigrew, and a personal foul against Atlanta left the Lions 41 yards away from the end zone. They wouldn’t get any closer.
Detroit didn’t get another chance to come back because it couldn’t tackle rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers on third-and-4 near midfield.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Smith met at midfield after the game in traditional fashion a week after Schwartz had to be separated from San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh in a charged scene.
Ryan was 20 of 34 for 218 yards with a TD and two interceptions and scored on a 1-yard plunge to break a 3-all tie late in the first quarter. He left the game briefly when teammate Will Svitek stepped on his left ankle, tweaking his knee.
“It hurt, but I don’t think it was bad as it must have looked on television,” Ryan said.
Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez caught five passes for 62 yards, giving him 1,104 career receptions to trail only Jerry Rice in NFL history – by 445 catches.
“Trust me, Jerry Rice will never be caught,” the 35-year-old Gonzalez said. “I’m very happy with second place.”