Falcons win for playoff bye while Johnson sets mark
DETROIT, Michigan (AFP) –
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw four touchdown passes and the Falcons clinched a first-round National Football League playoff bye with a 31-18 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Detroit’s Calvin Johnson broke the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season in a losing cause with one game to play, earning a standing ovation from home supporters who saw the Lions, 4-11, suffer their seventh defeat in a row.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” Johnson said. “Never thought it would be this special. It’s a tough season but you can’t take that moment away.”
Johnson’s feat was overshadowed by the Falcons, who improved to an NFL-best 13-2 to secure a home-field edge throughout the National Conference playoffs. They are one of only two teams unbeaten at home this season.
The Falcons, in the playoff for the fourth time in five seasons, are also at an NFL-best 33-6 at home since 2008 and playing inside their domed home gives them a big edge in the fight to reach the Super Bowl in February at New Orleans.
“It’s huge,” Ryan said. “It’s what we aimed to do since the beginning of the season and to accomplish that was perfect.”
Ryan, who completed 25 of 32 passes for 279 yards, found Johnson after the game to congratulate him on breaking the old NFL one-season reception yardage mark of 1,848 yards, set by Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers in 1995.
“I’m a fan,” Ryan said. “He is an unbelievable player.”
Johnson made 11 catches for 225 yards, giving him an NFL record 1,892 reception yards for the season. He hopes to push the record beyond 2,000 yards next week when the Lions close their season at home against Chicago.
“It has become very realistic,” Johnson said of 2,000 yards. “But we have a tough opponent next week. We have to do our homework.”
Rice, who had hoped to crack 2,000 yards 17 years ago, said he thinks Johnson will do it.
“This guy is really amazing,” Rice said. “He is a true talent.”
Johnson broke the record on his 10th catch of the night, cutting left across the middle of the field and taking the throw from Matthew Stafford before turning upfield to complete a 26-yard play with 2:57 remaining.
As the crowd chanted his name, Johnson quickly ran to the sidelines and gave the ball to his father, Calvin Snr, as they shared a hug.
On the play, Johnson also set an NFL record with his fourth consecutive game with at least 10 receptions.
Johnson, nicknamed “Megatron”, turned a short crossing pattern catch into a 49-yard pass play early in the first quarter to set a team mark for yardage in a season and then took aim at bigger record books.
He made a 22-yard catch with 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter for another two NFL records: an unprecedented eighth 100-yard receiving game in a row and a record-matching 11th 100-yard receiving game in a season.
Another 100-yard receiving performance next week would push Johnson into sole possession of the mark he shares with former Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin.
Ryan completed his last ten passes last week against the New York Giants and his first 12 passes against Detroit, the 22 completions in a row over two games matching the third-longest completion streak in NFL history.
Atlanta opened the scoring on Ryan’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White, added a 39-yard touchdown pass to White in the second quarter and a 16-yard touchdown toss to Julio Jones to give the Falcons a 21-3 lead.
Jason Hanson kicked his second field goal two seconds before half-time to pull the Lions within 15 points. Detroit’s Mikel Leshoure scored on a 1-yard run and Hanson connected on a 20-yard field goal to trim Atlanta’s lead to 21-16 with 13:26 to play.
But Ryan responded by marching the Falcons 78 yards in 11 plays over 6:14 for a touchdown on his 1-yard pass to Michael Palmer, putting the Falcons ahead 28-16 with 7:12 to play.
It was Ryan’s 31st touchdown pass of the season, matching a team record.
“We came up with drives when we needed them,” Ryan said.
On Detroit’s next possession, Stafford threw an interception while trying to connect with Johnson for the Lions’ third turnover of the game, setting up a 20-yard field goal by Atlanta’s Matt Bryant.
Detroit’s defensive unit produced the final points on a safety with 81 seconds remaining.