Matt Ryan ran and threw for touchdowns to give Atlanta a double-digit lead in the first half, and the Falcons held on to win 23-16 in Detroit on Sunday.
The defending NFC South champion-Falcons (4-3) won consecutive games for the first time this season because they finally played well in all three phases on the same day.
“Good teams go on streaks,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. “You can’t just keep yo-yoing up and down.”
The Lions (5-2) have lost their luster with two straight losses — both at home — after their perfect start. Their formerly fired-up fans have started to boo, moan and groan.
“We don’t deserve their cheers if we’re going to play like that,” Lions guard Rob Sims said. “It’s just that simple.”
The Lions had a chance to get Ford Field back on their side.
But on Detroit’s final drive, a pass-interference penalty against Atlanta was overturned because instant replay showed defensive tackle Corey Peters had slightly grazed the ball.
“I didn’t see the tip, but the guys in the booth were in my ear about it right away,” Smith said. “With less than 2 minutes, we had to rely on the officials, but they did a great job. They didn’t let the Lions snap the ball, so the replay official could get a good look, and they made the right call.”
Instead of having the ball at the Falcons 26, the Lions were backed up to the 41 and Matthew Stafford threw an incomplete pass on the next play to turn it over on downs and injured his right ankle, knee — or both.
“To tell the truth I can’t really tell right now,” Stafford said.
Stafford said he was going to try and play if Detroit’s defense got the ball back, but the Falcons made that a moot point by picking up a first down and running out the clock.
Ryan’s 1-yard plunge and 18-yard pass to Roddy White put Atlanta ahead 17-6 at halftime.
Calvin Johnson caught his 10th touchdown pass late in the third quarter — to pull Detroit within four points — and finished with five receptions for 115 yards.
Matt Bryant’s third field goal gave the Falcons a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter on a drive extended when safety Louis Delmas was called for holding on fourth down.
The Lions, who struggled against Atlanta’s aggressive defense all day, had the ball at their 13 with 3:20 to go and three timeouts left with a chance to send the game into overtime.
Stafford converted a fourth down with a pass to Brandon Pettigrew, and a personal foul against Atlanta left the Lions 41 yards away from the end zone. They wouldn’t get any closer.
Detroit didn’t get another chance to come back because it couldn’t tackle rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers on third-and-4 near midfield.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz and Smith met at midfield after the game in traditional fashion a week after Schwartz had to be separated from San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh in a charged scene.
Ryan was 20 of 34 for 218 yards with a TD and two interceptions and scored on a 1-yard plunge to break a 3-all tie late in the first quarter. He left the game briefly when teammate Will Svitek stepped on his left ankle, tweaking his knee.
“It hurt, but I don’t think it was bad as it must have looked on television,” Ryan said.
Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez caught five passes for 62 yards, giving him 1,104 career receptions to trail only Jerry Rice in NFL history — by 445 catches.
“Trust me, Jerry Rice will never be caught,” the 35-year-old Gonzalez said. “I’m very happy with second place.”
Michael Turner ran 27 times — including a 50-yard gain — and finished with 122 yards rushing for the Falcons.
Stafford was 15 of 32 for 183 yards and a TD against consistent pressure, getting sacked three times and hurried after several more snaps.
“I was very pleased with the way we made it hectic and chaotic for the quarterback,” Smith said.
Detroit’s Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams combined for 94 yards on 18 carries, filling in for Jahvid Best, who was out with a concussion.
The Lions struggled on special teams. They gave up long returns — one of which went for a score but was negated by penalty — and Stefan Logan fumbled on a kickoff to set up Ryan’s TD run.
Schwartz said Detroit couldn’t overcome missed opportunities on offense, defense and special teams against the Falcons.
“They were 13-3 last year and they’re going to be a good team again this year,” he said.
Notes: Gonzalez moved past Cris Carter (1,101) and Marvin Harrison (1,102). … Scheffler and Lions LB Justin Durant played after being out with concussions and Lions CB Chris Houston aggravated his back injury. … Atlanta WR Julio Jones (left hamstring) and LT Sam Baker (lower back) were inactive. … Johnson has the most TD receptions (10) through the first seven games of a season since Randy Moss had as many with New England in 2007 and is one short of the total Elroy Hirsch had with the Rams in 1951 and Frank Clarke in 1962 with the Cowboys, according to STATS LLC.