DETROIT (AP) — Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes, two to Roddy White, and their defensive teammates made some key plays to help the Atlanta Falcons take a 21-6 lead over the Detroit Lions at halftime Saturday night.
Atlanta is a win away from earning home-field advantage throughout the NFL playoffs. The Lions have only pride at stake after losing six straight.
Ryan went deep to White for the first score, connecting with him on a 44-yard TD strike with 5:50 left in the first quarter. Ryan threw a short pass to him early in the second quarter and the standout receiver did the rest on a 39-yard sprint down the sideline.
Ryan put his third TD pass where only Julio Jones could catch it a corner of the end zone, and he did on a 16-yard reception that put Atlanta up 21-3.
The Falcons scored two of their TDs off turnovers.
Defensive end Kroy Biermann forced running Mikel Leshoure to fumble, giving the Falcons the ball at their 31 and they took advantage. Ryan's perfectly lofted pass to White's fingertips converted a third-and-1 in a big way, putting the Falcons ahead.
The Lions responded with another drive into Atlanta territory, but stalled and had to settle for Jason Hanson's 34-yard field goal in the final minute of the opening quarter to pull within four points.
Atlanta earned a double-digit lead on the ensuing drive.
Ryan threw a screen pass to his left to White, who got a great block from tight end Tony Gonzalez, and the receiver raced untouched for a score that put the Falcons ahead 14-3.
Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who had a record-breaking game, fumbled when defensive end John Abraham ripped the football out of his hands.
Ryan completed his first 12 attempts and after his first incomplete pass, he converted a third-and-10 with an 11-yard toss to Jacquizz Rodgers. Two plays later, Ryan matched a season high with a third TD pass on the connection with Jones. Prior to the game, Ryan hadn't started a game with more than 10 consecutive completions, according to STATS LLC. He started 10 for 10 last month against Tampa Bay.
Johnson had three receptions for 70 yards in the first quarter, breaking Herman Moore's single-season franchise record for yards receiving and putting him closer to Jerry Rice's NFL record of 1,848 yards receiving.
By halftime, Johnson had 117 yards receiving. He had 100 yards receiving for an eighth straight game, breaking a record set by Charley Hennigan in 1961 and matched by Michael Irvin in 1995.
Johnson needed 65 yards in the second half to break a record Rice set in 1995 with the San Francisco 49ers.
Hanson kicked a second field goal late in the first half to make the score 21-6.
The Lions went right to Johnson on their first snap, but he gained just 3 yards on the three-and-out drive. The Falcons drove to the Detroit 45 the first time they had the ball, but punted on a fourth-and-2.
Matthew Stafford connected with Johnson on a short crossing route and the receiver did the rest, outrunning Falcons on a 49-yard gain. Fittingly, the Lions turned the ball over on the next snap in the latest lowlight in a season full of them.
The Lions, Falcons and fans at Ford Field in Detroit honored the victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the game. Players had memorial decals on their helmets that read "S.H.E.S." in white on a black background, and Detroit's coaches wore pins with a similar design. There was also a moment of silence before the national anthem while the names and ages of each victim were shown on the videoboards. Twenty children and six adults were killed in the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza killed his mother, shot students and staff, then killed himself.
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