DETROIT (AP) — Matt Ryan got what he wanted, helping the Atlanta Falcons win a game they needed to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
Calvin Johnson had to settle for having a record-breaking night in yet another Detroit loss.
Ryan matched a career high with four touchdown passes, two to Roddy White, and Atlanta led from start to finish in a 31-18 victory over Detroit on Saturday night.
Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s NFL single-season yards receiving mark of 1,848. Johnson also became the first player with 100 yards receiving in eight straight games and the first with 10 receptions in four games in a row. He had 11 receptions for 225 yards, giving him 1,992 this season.
The Falcons (13-2) pulled away with Ryan’s fourth TD pass to wide-open tight end Michael Palmer in the fourth quarter and Matt Bryant’s 20-yard field goal with 3:05 left that gave them a 15-point lead.
Ryan was 25 of 32 for 279 yards without a turnover.
Detroit (4-11) dropped its seventh straight game.
The Falcons hope playing at home, potentially throughout the conference playoffs, helps them more than it did after the 2010 and 1980 seasons. The Falcons failed to win a game in either postseason, getting routed by Green Bay two years ago and blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to Dallas three decades ago.
Atlanta advanced to its only Super bowl with a win at Minnesota after winning a franchise-record 14 games during the 1998 season.
The Falcons won’t have much incentive to match that mark next week at home against Tampa Bay, when they'll have nothing to gain and something to lose if a key player or more gets hurt.
The Lions, meanwhile, have been relegated to playing for pride this month and that hasn’t been going very well.
Detroit, which has the longest active losing streak in the league, hasn’t had this long of a skid since it had one lasting an entire season when the laughingstock of a franchise became the league’s first to go 0-16 in 2008.
The Falcons led 21-3 at halftime before letting the Lions pull within five points early in the fourth quarter.
Ryan dashed Detroit’s comeback hopes.
Facing intense pressure, he converted a third down in Atlanta territory with a pass to White, picked on rookie cornerback Jonte Green by throwing to Jones to pick up more first downs and found Tony Gonzalez open to convert another third down to set up his fourth TD pass.
Matthew Stafford was clearly trying to get the ball to Johnson on the next drive and cornerback Asante Samuel figured that out, stepping in front of the receiver for an interception to set up Bryant’s field goal.
Atlanta running back Michael Turner was tackled in the end zone, after Detroit turned the ball over on downs, to give the Lions two meaningless points.
Johnson began the night 182 yards receiving away from breaking Rice’s NFL single-season mark of 1,848 yards receiving set in 1995 with San Francisco.
Johnson was 4 yards away from Rice’s record when Detroit kicked a field goal early in the fourth quarter to cut its deficit to five points.
Ryan went deep to White for the first score, connecting with him on a 44-yard TD strike with 5:50 left in the first quarter. Ryan threw a short pass to him early in the second quarter and the standout receiver did the rest on a 39-yard sprint down the sideline.
Ryan put his third TD pass where only Julio Jones could catch it a corner of the end zone, and he did on a 16-yard reception that put Atlanta up 21-3.
Detroit didn’t give up, a game after being accused of doing just that in a 38-10 loss at Arizona.
Jason Hanson kicked a second field goal late in the first half to make it 21-6.
After Atlanta opened the second half with a three-and-out drive, Mikel Leshoure scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter to pull the Lions with eight points.
Stafford connected with Johnson on 26- and 21-yard passes during the drive that ended with Hanson’s third field goal that made it 21-16.
Stafford finished 37 of 56 for 443 yards without a TD and with one interception.
Detroit dug a big hole because the Falcons scored two TDs off turnovers in the first half.
Defensive end Kroy Biermann forced running Leshoure to fumble, giving the Falcons the ball at their 31 and they took advantage. Ryan’s perfectly lofted pass to White’s fingertips converted a third-and-1 in a big way, putting the Falcons ahead.
The Lions responded with another drive into Atlanta territory, but stalled and had to settle for Hanson’s 34-yard field goal in the final minute of the opening quarter to pull within four points.Continued...