Falcons vs. Lions: Final Report Card, Player Grades for Atlanta
The Falcons got off to a hot start in the game, at once leading 21-3 in the second quarter. But the Lions swarmed back, cutting the lead to 21-16 early in the fourth quarter.
It was all Atlanta after that, however, first capping off an 11-play drive with a Michael Palmer touchdown before adding a field goal on the ensuing drive to make it 31-16. The Lions scored on a safety to close out the scoring on the night.
Here's a look a the final game grades for the Falcons.
Matt Ryan: A+
Ryan showed off his throwing ability against the Lions, from the short laser in the middle of the field to the deep pass with just the right amount of touch on it. But he also showed his imperfections, from making such ill-advised plays as passing to a fallen Roddy White to throwing on the wrong side of Julio Jones's shoulder down the sideline.
Nonetheless, those imperfect plays were few on an otherwise dominant night from Ryan.
Michael Turner: B-
Turner finished with just 41 yards on 13 carries for a 3.2 yards-per-carry average. It wasn't entirely his fault, however, as he was repeatedly met in the backfield on inside runs and on toss plays. A 22-yard gain and a few plays in the passing game boost his grade up.
Jacquizz Rodgers: B
Rodgers wasn't heavily featured in Saturday night's game plan, receiving just six carries and seeing one pass thrown his way which he turned into into 25 total yards of offense. While it wasn't much, Rodgers yet again displayed the burst and determination that makes him such a dangerous running back.
Roddy White: A+
Eight receptions for 153 yards—including back-to-back catches on poor throws by Ryan—, two touchdowns—including the fingertip catch shown in this slide's photo—and all despite being questionable for Saturday's game with a knee injury.
Julio Jones: A
Jones's longest catch of the day was just 16 yards, but it was arguably one of the best catches of the year as he found a way to drag both his toes in the back of the end zone for the score. While he was unable to get on the same page as Ryan on deep throws this week, he still finished with seven catches for 71 yards along with his touchdown.
Tony Gonzalez: C+
Gonzalez didn't figure much in the game plan Saturday night, finishing with just one reception for nine yards. It was a big one however, as it moved the chains on third and short on the drive that eventually resulted in the score that effectively put the game out of reach for Detroit.
Dropping Gonzalez's grade down was poor run blocking on the night, something that has plagued him much of the season.
Michael Palmer: B+
Palmer is happy Gonzalez kept that drive alive. That's because Atlanta's second-string tight end was the one to score on that drive, finding the end zone on a one-yard pass from Ryan. Palmer didn't do much else on the day, but as a reserve tight end in an offense like Atlanta's, it's good enough.
Sam Baker: B
Baker has continued his transformation from fan-favorite whipping boy to one of the Falcons' better offensive linemen, providing Ryan solid time in the pocket and blocking generally well in the running game. His best play on the night came downfield, however, when he blocked an oncoming defender out of the way on White's 39-yard screen pass touchdown.
Justin Blalock and Todd McClure: C-
Blalock and McClure were grouped together for the simple fact they were part of an interior Falcons offensive line that struggled nearly all night long against the Lions. Blalock and McClure's poor performance had Ryan feeling intense pressure much of the night while giving Turner and Rodgers virtually no running room up the middle.
Peter Konz: D-
I'd have put Peter Konz in the above category, but he deserves his own after Saturday's game. Konz simply could not contain Ndamukong Suh, allowing him to get into Atlanta's backfield play after play and giving up not only Ryan's only sack of the night, but Michael Turner's safety as well.
Tyson Clabo: A-
It was off the right tackle that Turner got his 22-yard gain, and it was on the right edge of the line that gave Ryan the least amount of trouble on the night. For that, Clabo gets all the credit.
John Abraham and Kroy Biermann: C-
It was far from a career night from Abraham, who finished with just two tackles and a forced fumble. The same can be said for Biermann, who got credit for just an assisted tackle on the night. Both provided little pressure on Matt Stafford and it cost them, giving him all the time in the world to pass the ball.
Johnathan Babineaux: C-
Babineaux finished with just one assisted tackle in the game, providing some flashes of pressure and made a few plays covering in the passing game but otherwise failed to do much of anything else on the night.
Corey Peters: B-
Peters had a big night statistically by defensive tackle standards, finishing with four solo tackles and one assisted stop, along with a forced fumble. Yet as strong as he was in the running game, Peters didn't do as well against the pass as he was unable to consistently collapse the pocket on Stafford.
Peria Jerry: B+
Unlike Peters, Jerry's night isn't so statistically wowing, as he recorded just two tackles and was at the right place at the right time when he recovered the fumble Peters forced. Also unlike Peters, however, Jerry brought noticeable pressure on Stafford, forcing numerous rushed throws and incompletions on the night.
Vance Walker: C+
It was a rather quiet night from Walker, who finished with just two tackles on the night.
Sean Weatherspoon: B
Weatherspoon found himself in this photo's position often Saturday night, missing many tackles throughout the game. Nonetheless, he still finished second on the team in tackles with seven solo and two assisted. He flew all over the field all game long, from stuffing the run at the point of attack to making tackles downfield.
Stephen Nicholas: B-
Nicholas missed a few tackles and struggled a little in coverage, but otherwise was his usual hard-hitting self with three tackles and two assists on the night.
Akeem Dent: B+
The young linebacker wasn't on the field much against the Lions, but was effective when he was in, making two solo tackles for no gain and assisting on another.
Asante Samuel: C+
Samuel had a rough outing like his fellow defenders against Calvin Johnson, but he perhaps matched up against him the best as he did a decent job covering Johnson and even picked off a pass intended for him.
Dunta Robinson: D
When a cornerback leads the team in tackles, it's usually for all the wrong reasons. That was the case Saturday night, as Robinson finished with nine solo tackles and one assisted one against the Lions, getting utterly abused by Johnson who beat him in just about every route.
Robert McClain: C+
It wasn't his best day as he missed his assignment on Johnson's record-breaking catch, but McClain noticeably held his own against him down in the red zone on a play and provided good coverage on a third down pass headed his way on another, not to mention recovering a fumble on the day.
Thomas DeCoud and Chris Hope: C-
The Lions didn't go over the top that often against the Falcons, but that didn't do much to help these two safeties' case as they were plagued by missed tackles, poor coverage and bad angles throughout the night.
Dominique Franks: D+
Missed tackles, poor coverage, bad angles on the few defensive plays he was in for. The added caveat is he was once again ineffective as a punt returner yet another week.
Game grade: A
No major mistakes, deep kickoffs and effective punts from Matt Bosher, Matt Bryant converting his only field goal attempt of the game and Jacquizz Rodgers returning the ball well on kickoffs, there's no reason for this grade to be anything else.
Game Grade: A-
It was great seeing offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter call a mix of plays throughout the game, including about three different screen pass plays in the span of a few minutes. Even greater was seeing him keep the pedal to the metal in the second half calling for three deep passes in the third quarter. While none was completed, the fact that the mentality was there is a positive sign with the postseason on the horizon.
And while Calvin Johnson broke the single-season receiving record on Mike Nolan's watch, one has to remember that's keeping him from it wasn't his job—Keeping Detroit from scoring points was, and from the looks of it he did a pretty good job of that.
Not to be forgotten is head coach Mike Smith, who kept his team focused in an otherwise meaningless game and he received the ultimate prize for it: the NFC's top seed.