By The Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — Matt Ryan went to the sideline with a worrying injury, then came back a few plays later to lead his team.
Matthew Stafford was hoping for a similar turnabout later in the game, but after he hobbled off the field, he never had a chance to return.
Ryan shook off a knee problem in the third quarter to help the Atlanta Falcons to a 23-16 win over Detroit on Sunday. Stafford, the Lions’ quarterback, was also hurt — on his team’s last offensive play with 90 seconds remaining. He said later he would have tried to come back if Detroit had regained possession for another drive, but the Falcons ran out the clock.
“I’m moving around OK right now — so we’ll see,” Stafford said. “I’m sure I’ll be getting X-rays at some point.”
Both teams had reasons to be concerned about their quarterbacks. Ryan was 20 of 34 for 218 yards and a touchdown and also scored on a 1-yard plunge in the first quarter. But in the third, teammate Will Svitek stepped on his left ankle, and Ryan tweaked his knee.
“I don’t think it was as bad as it must have looked on television,” Ryan said. “Once I got back into the locker room and got it taped up, it was fine. I was OK after that, and I feel good now.”
The Lions sure hope the same can be said about Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft who got off to a brilliant start this season but has been dogged by injury problems throughout his short career.
Stafford was 15 of 32 for 183 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. His last pass fell incomplete on fourth down with 1:30 to play, and he looked gimpy when he came off the field. Stafford sat down and began having his right foot taped.
“We’re going to check him out — he sort of limped off the field at the end — look at his knee and ankle,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “We’ll see where he is this week.”
Stafford said another player fell on him, and he couldn’t tell if his knee or ankle was the bigger concern. Detroit never had the ball after he left. Stafford said he would have tried to play on if there was another chance to tie the game.
“I was going to give it a try, give it a go,” Stafford said. “Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to, but I was going to go try.”
Stafford played in only three games last season because of shoulder problems. He was instrumental in helping the Lions start 5-0 this season, but he’s looked shakier the past couple games.
The Lions (5-2) have lost their luster with two straight losses — both at home — after their perfect start. Their 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.”
Ryan ran for a touchdown and threw an 18-yard scoring pass to Roddy White to help Atlanta take a 17-6 halftime lead.
Calvin Johnson caught a 57-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to pull Detroit within four points at 20-16. Matt Bryant’s third field goal of the game gave the Falcons a seven-point lead midway through the fourth.
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. Nate Burleson dropped a pass, and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon broke up the next one. Then a pass interference penalty against Atlanta was overturned because instant replay showed defensive tackle Corey Peters had tipped the ball.
One incompletion later, Atlanta had the ball back for good.
Schwartz and Atlanta’s Mike 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 stemming from an exuberant postgame handshake.
Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez caught five passes, passing both Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison to take over second place on the NFL’s career list. He finished the game with 1,104 catches — two more than Harrison and three more than Carter.
Jerry Rice is No. 1 at 1,549 receptions.
“Trust me, Jerry Rice will never be caught,” Gonzalez said. “I’m very happy with second place.”