Falcons’ two-minute defense fails in last-second loss to Lions

Falcons safety Keanu Neal sacks Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons safety Keanu Neal sacks Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Not counting the two drives at the end of the second and fourth quarters, the Falcons held the Detroit Lions to only 13 points.

But in those two end-of-half situations, the Falcons gave up 10 points in only 1:33 worth of time. Therefore, those two end-of-half scores played a major role in Sunday’s 23-22 loss to the Lions. After the game, Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris harped on his team’s inability to slow down the Lions’ two-minute offense, which has been an issue for the defense all season.

Asked if there has been a common thread in each of the Falcons’ three last-second fourth-quarter losses, Morris singled this particular area out.

ExploreWhat Raheem Morris said after loss to Lions

“It’s our two-minute defense, just in general,” Morris said. “Right there before the half they got three (points). And at the end of the game they scored six. We gotta find a way to get better, be more stout. We gotta find a way to play better in the second half and at the end of (the second quarter).”

Following a 14-play, 98-yard drive that resulted in a Falcons touchdown late in the second quarter, the Lions had only 29 seconds left on the game clock before the end of the first half. Immediately, quarterback Matthew Stafford hit tight end T.J. Hockenson for a 10-yard and first down. On the next play, Stafford found receiver Kenny Golladay for 18 yards before calling timeout with only 17 seconds to go.

After a false start, Stafford found receiver Marvin Jones open over the deep middle for 20 yards. Stafford hurried his teammates to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball, which set up a 50-yard field goal from placekicker Matt Prater. That sequence of events proved pivotal since it cut the Falcons' halftime lead from 14-7 to 14-10.

“I think it is just us being cognizant of winning time and situational ball,” safety Keanu Neal said. “That is really what it boils down to. It is not anything else.”

On Detroit’s final drive, it started at the 25-yard line with Stafford hitting Hockenson for a 13-yard gain on second down. After spiking the ball, Stafford then found receiver Danny Amendola open over the middle for 22 yards. Following another spike, Stafford, with 12 seconds left on the game clock, completed a pass to Golladay, which was reviewed and upheld. Stafford spiked the ball again, which gave the Lions three seconds and one final play.

And after the ensuing snap, Stafford moved up in the pocket and found Hockenson running wide open in the end zone for the game-tying touchdown. Prater then hit the game-winning 48-yard extra point after Amendola was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following the score.

Falcons cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield (20) and A.J. Terrell (24) are unable to block the attempt by Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5), who watches his extra-point try sail through uprights, to beat the Falcons 23-22 Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield (20) and A.J. Terrell (24) are unable to block the attempt by Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5), who watches his extra-point try sail through uprights, to beat the Falcons 23-22 Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The Lions had 10 possessions against the Falcons, with the aforementioned two coming at the end of the first and second halves. On their eight other drives, the Lions totaled seven plays of 15 yards or more. On the scoring drives at the end of the second and fourth quarters, the Falcons allowed the Lions to have four plays of 15 yards or more.

Being unable to stop teams when they’ve been in the two-minute offense has been troublesome all season. Both the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears were able to rally against the Falcons when opting for the hurry-up late in the game. With Sunday’s game being a one-possession contest throughout, the Lions didn’t press the tempo until those end-of-half drives.

With the Falcons forcing three punts, a turnover on downs and a missed field goal during the middle of the game, it makes the 10 total points scored at the end of each half that much harder for the team to take.

“I don’t have a lot of words to describe what’s going on,” tight end Hayden Hurst said. “We just have to play better at the end of halves. I think right before halftime we made some mistakes and obviously there at the end of the game. We have to be better.”

Perhaps end-of-half situations will be an area of emphasis in practice as the Falcons prepare for their second meeting against the Panthers on Thursday. For the game, Stafford completed 25 of 36 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown.

On the two end-of-half drives, Stafford was 7 of 12 throwing for 123 yards and a score. Four of the five incompletions were Stafford spiking the ball to stop the clock. His yardage total on those two drives accounted for 36 percent of Stafford’s overall total.

“We gotta be better finishers,” Morris said. “Our rush has to get home. We have to get to the quarterback in those moments. You gotta have the ability to pick off the ball when a guy’s scrambling around throwing it in the air. We gotta find a way to finish the game better. We didn’t get it done.”

In Other News