The Detroit Lions' field goal demons this season were exorcised Sunday. Matt Prater booted a 48-yard game winner to lift the Lions to a 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London. Prater missed a 43-yard attempt just before the kick, but was saved by a bizarre delay of game penalty that ironically gave him another chance. The Lions overcame a 21-0 deficit at halftime to win.
It was all Atlanta in the early going. The Falcons notched three first half touchdowns and built up a 21-0 lead that they carried into halftime. The story of the first half though, was a strong defensive performance from a Falcons defense that kept Matthew Stafford out of rhythm and kept the Lions off the scoreboard.
The Lions were able to regain momentum in the second half, though they struggled whenever they approached Atlanta's goal line. They entered the red zone three times on the day, and only came away with one touchdown. That score, which came midway through the fourth quarter, made the score 21-19. The Lions couldn't convert the 2-point conversion, but were able to get the back to make a late drive.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense went remarkably cold in the second half after a strong start. Atlanta was fortunate to fall on multiple fumbles, but couldn't avoid turnovers altogether, as Ryan was determined to get a ball into the hands of a Lions defender.
Three things we learned:
1) Matt Stafford struggles to carry the Lions
The Detroit Lions have racked up offensive numbers during Matthew Stafford's time as the starting quarterback and he passed Bobby Layne as the team's all-time leader in passing touchdowns, but without his usual playmakers at his disposal, namely Calvin Johnson, he's struggled to lead the team to success. The Lions were without Reggie Bush and three tight ends as well on Sunday, but 24-of-47 passing for 325 yards with an interception just isn't good enough to justify what the Lions have invested in him.
It's not time to panic, as Johnson is expected back with the team next week and Bush's ankle injury likely won't keep him out much longer. And Stafford's long touchdown to Golden Tate was admittedly a thing of beauty:
But that throw and big plays late cloud what was a poor game overall. The rough stretch for the Detroit offense the last few weeks is pretty discouraging for a team that is due to pay Stafford $9.5 million in 2015 and $33.5 million in the two seasons that follow.
2) London CAN produce good football games
In five of the last eight games played overseas, the winning team has managed to pull away and cruise to a victory margin of 24 or more points. Sunday's game was mercifully an exception to the rule, though it looked for 30 minutes.
There's a list of speculative reasons why the games haven't been very competitive in London, just as there has been speculation about the poor games on Thursday nights. Among the reasons though, has been a consistently tough playing surface to play on in Wembley Stadium.
As has been the case in previous NFL games in London, the field was essentially shredded by the end of the first half and the grounds crew spent halftime picking up large chunks of field that were ripped out of the ground.
3) This was a hopeful game for the Falcons
Pyrrhic victories sort of suck, but the Falcons played much better than they have the last few weeks. They're still in the midst of a five-game losing streak, but at least the defense had a pulse for a half. Ditto the offense.
In a bad NFC South, Atlanta may still be able to manufacture a run. They are still 2-0 in the division, and at least the team finally has some strong film that it can point to as an example of how it should be playing.