Everything was going so, so right for the Atlanta Falcons. Then the second half happened.
The Lions' struggling kicker, Matt Prater, kicked a 48-yard field goal on the final play — on his second try — to cap a stunning 22-21 comeback victory for Detroit (6-2) Sunday at Wembley Stadium in the NFL's earliest start in history.
The loss dropped Atlanta to 2-6, dangerously close to falling out of contention in the weak NFC South. The Falcons' locker room afterward featured painful silences, bowed heads and crestfallen faces.
"This is as tough a loss to take as any that I've ever been a part of. We had a lot of chances to win that ball game," said quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns but tossed an interception straight to Lions Cassius Vaughn that allowed Detroit to pull within 21-13 at the start of the final quarter.
The Lions boasted the league's top-ranked defense, but Ryan picked it apart early with relative ease, aided by surprisingly stout protection from his patchwork offensive line. He completed 5 of 6 passes on the opening drive, capped by Devonta Freeman's touchdown catch.
On the Falcons' second possession, Ryan's play action fooled the Lions, leaving backup tight end Bear Pascoe alone at the back of the end zone to put Atlanta up 14-0.
Steven Jackson's 1-yard touchdown run made him the 19th player in NFL history to rush for 11,000 yards. The Falcons also caught a huge break on that drive, when an end zone interception returned 102 yards by Rashead Mathis was nullified by Mathis' interference.
The Falcons surrendered the 21-0 halftime lead on the game's final play, tying the biggest blown lead in club history.
Lions quarterback Matt Stafford, under pressure in the first half as he struggled to adjust without top playmakers Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, finished with 325 yards passing, completing 24 of 47 attempts for two touchdowns and one interception. His two TDs gave him 120 in just the sixth year of his career, breaking a Lions record held since 1958 by Hall of Famer Bobby Layne.
He made the Lions' play of the game on 3rd and 25 when he found Golden Tate streaking down the right sideline past safety Kemal Ishmael for a 59-yard touchdown that brought the Lions to 21-10.
Then Ryan was intercepted by Vaughn at the Detroit 48. The Lions cornerback was run down by Jones at the 6. The Falcons' defense held, and Prater's 20-yard field goal made the score 21-13.
On the Lions' next drive they fooled the Falcons' defense by sending Tate in motion left, leaving Theo Riddick uncovered out of the backfield for an easy 5-yard touchdown catch. The 2-point attempt failed, preserving the Falcons' lead with 4 minutes remaining.
The Falcons made two first downs and reached the two-minute warning, but couldn't run off much time after that thanks to a holding penalty and a costly third-down drop by Jones. Atlanta punted with 1:38 to go.
Stafford immediately hit a leaping Tate for 32 yards, then tossed a short pass up the middle to Riddick, who made a one-handed grab and burst forward for another 20 yards. Stafford hit wide receiver Jeremy Ross for another first down.
Detroit was just 2-for-12 on field goals of more than 40 yards this season. The Falcons stormed the field in joy as Prater's 43-yard attempt tumbled wide right.
But the referees waved off the play for a delay-of-game penalty on the Lions.
Coach Mike Smith, under mounting pressure, went from leaping with relief, hands aloft in victory — to abject deflation. He crouched in silence and pulled at the grass as Prater nailed the winning 48-yarder.
The Falcons have been outscored 70-7 in the final period of their last six games and now have lost five in a row.
The game started at 1:30 p.m. in the British capital, which was 9:30 a.m. on the East Coast and 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast.
It was the second of three regular-season NFL games this year at Wembley. Miami beat Oakland 38-14 on Sept. 28, and Dallas will face Jacksonville on Nov. 9.
NOTES: Girl group Lil Mix performed before the game, while Dianne Reeves sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" and Laura Wright sang "God Save the Queen."
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