Falcons vs. Lions: Why Detroit Fans Should Be Very Worried About Sunday's Game

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IOctober 20, 2011

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 15: Running back Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons runs with the football against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on August 15, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

It has been an awkward week in Detroit.

The Lions had their nine-game winning streak snapped, the Tigers lost in the ALCS and the NHL season just started, so Red Wings hype hasn't had time to take hold.

In other words, the sports community in Motown is crashing a bit after flying high for the last month.

With the Tigers' season over, the Lions are the hottest ticket in town now, even after the loss. But after a disappointing loss against San Francisco, they have the schizophrenic Falcons coming to town. If ever there was a time for the Lions to earn a statement win, this is it.

See, the winning streak was great, but losing was inevitable. It's what happens after the loss that determines whether they're a good or bad team.

In 2009, the Denver Broncos started 6-0 under new head coach Josh McDaniels, and there was talk of them being one of the best teams in the league.

Then it all fell apart. The Broncos finished 2-8, and missed the playoffs at 8-8.

Similarly, the Lions looked like a playoff team in 2007 when they started 6-2, but they went 1-7 down the stretch and didn't even make it back to .500.

What did both of those teams have in common? Both started strong, and neither could handle adversity.

Neither of those teams were very good, but they were both able to pull off strong starts to the season.

The difference between a good team and a bad team on a fast start is the ability to bounce back after a loss. The Saints do it; the Patriots do it; if the Packers ever lose, they'll bounce back, too.

But can the Lions? This is the question the Lions have to answer against Atlanta. The Lions have two games between now and the bye week. The Falcons will prove a much stiffer test than the Tim Tebow-led Broncos, so it's reasonable to think that the Lions are looking at either a 7-1 or 6-2 record going into the bye week.

But consider the discussion during the bye week if the Lions lose to the Falcons and beat the Broncos.

There's that dreaded 6-2 mark, the same hot start they got off to in 2007. Furthermore, it would look an awful lot like the Lions beat up on some sub-par competition, then lost to a couple of real contenders and beat another bad team.

Worse yet, does anyone remember the game the Lions won to get to 6-2 that year? It was a 44-7 beatdown of the Denver Broncos. If you want that to make you a little more nervous, read this game recap after that fateful game.

Playoff talk. The coach talking about taking things one game at a side. Players talking about not being the "same old Lions." One game back from the Packers in the NFC North. It's eerily similar to what these Lions are going through right now.

Beating Denver was the high point of the Detroit Lions' 2007 season. Bouncing back against the Falcons will go a long way to show that it won't be again in 2011.
Beating Denver was the high point of the Detroit Lions' 2007 season. Bouncing back against the Falcons will go a long way to show that it won't be again in 2011.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

And because of that, if the Lions lose this game, the "pretender" talk will follow them into the bye week. The Falcons can make that happen. They might be a 3-3 team, but they're effectively the same team that went 13-3 last year.

That doesn't mean they're unbeatable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Two of the Falcons' losses came against teams that the Lions have already beaten (Chicago and Tampa Bay), while their three wins came against teams with a combined 5-12 record.

But the Lions looked last Sunday like a team that had forgotten how to win. They left points on the field in the red zone, took penalties in bundles and showed no urgency during a potential game-winning two-minute drill.

That's not to take anything away from the 49ers, who earned a tough win on the road, but it's not like the Lions were outclassed in this game. They had lots of opportunities to win, and they seized none of them.

That team cannot show up against Atlanta. The Falcons have the capability to be an overpowering force. Whether that team shows up at Ford Field remains to be seen, but the Lions had better be ready to play that team.

More to the point, the Lions had better be ready to beat that team.

If they don't, you can look forward to two or three weeks of wondering whether the Lions are who we thought they were.