Falcons win, get to stay home
Defeat Lions to lock up home field in NFC
DETROIT – Matt Ryan got what he wanted.
Calvin Johnson was forced to settle for what he could get.
Ryan matched a career high with four touchdown passes, two to Roddy White, to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the Detroit Lions 31-18 Saturday night and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
“It’s great,” Ryan said. “Our confidence is high and our experience – good and bad – has helped us. The key is to keep the focus where it’s been.”
In yet another loss, Johnson had a record-breaking night.
Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s NFL single-season yards receiving mark of 1,848. After making the record-breaking catch in the fourth quarter, Johnson jogged over to the sideline and handed the football to his father.
“That was a very special moment,” he said.
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.
“I’ve been an NFL fan my whole life, dating back to watching Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry as a kid, and I’ve coached in this league for 19 years,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “I’ve seen a lot of Hall of Famers, but I’ve never seen a better player than Calvin Johnson.
“He just broke a record set by Jerry Rice, who is arguably the best player in the history of this league.”
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.
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.
Detroit (4-11) has been relegated to playing for pride this month and that hasn’t been going very well.
The Lions, whose seven-game losing streak is the longest skid in the league, haven’t struggled this much since 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.
Mead High School graduate Jason Hanson kicked three field goals for the Lions – with a long of 38 yards.
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