Matt Ryan helps Falcons home in on NFC playoffs

Falcons 31
Lions 18

DETROIT — 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-setting night in yet another Detroit loss.

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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 the Lions on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s NFL single-season yards receiving mark of 1,848. Johnson also became the only player with 100 yards receiving in eight straight games and the first with 10 receptions in four games in a row in league history. He had 11 receptions for 225 yards, giving him 1,892 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 led, 21-3, at halftime before letting the Lions pull within 5 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 Julio Jones to pick up more first downs, and found Tony Gonzalez to convert another third down to set up his fourth TD pass.

Lions quarterback 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.

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.

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 Jones could catch it a corner of the end zone, and he did on a 16-yard reception that put Atlanta up, 21-3.

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 8 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. Stafford, in his fourth season, has 1,090 career completions to surpass Bobby Layne’s franchise record of 1,074. Stafford is seven attempts away from surpassing the NFL’s single-season mark of 691 set by the Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe in 1994.

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.

Ryan threw a screen pass to his left to White, who got a great block from tight end Gonzalez, and the receiver raced untouched for a score that put the Falcons ahead, 14-3.

White finished with eight receptions for 153 yards and two TDs. Jones had seven receptions for 71 yards and a score.

Johnson had three receptions for 70 yards in the first quarter, breaking Herman Moore’s single-season franchise record for yards receiving.

By halftime, Johnson had 117 yards receiving. He had 100 yards receiving for an eighth straight game, breaking a record set by Charley Hennigan in 1961 and matched by Michael Irvin in 1995. It was Johnson’s 11th game with 100 yards receiving this season, tying Irvin’s NFL mark.