A last-minute interception by Foye Oluokun showed again the Atlanta Falcons are learning to win close games.
Matt Ryan threw a tie-breaking, 12-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst early in the fourth quarter and the Falcons held on late to beat the Detroit Lions 20-16 on Sunday to preserve their slim playoff hopes.
“It’s a gritty group for sure,” said Ryan of the Falcons (7-8), who have a chance for a winning season after finishing 4-12 last year. “It hasn’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination throughout the year, but when we’ve been in one-score games we’ve done a good job.”
The Falcons improved to 7-2 in one-possession games, including four wins by no more than four points.
Oluokun’s interception of Lions fill-in quarterback Tim Boyle’s pass at the Atlanta 1 with 33 seconds remaining preserved the win. Boyle’s pass was intended for Kalif Raymond.
“My eyes brought me over there,” Oluokun said. “I just made a play on the ball when it came.”
It was the first interception of the game for Boyle, who made his second career start as Jared Goff remained on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Boyle acknowledged he made the wrong read on Atlanta’s defense.
“Looking back, it was man coverage,” Boyle said. “I worked the zone coverage side. That was my mistake. … I felt really good going into this game. With every look they could give me I had a plan for … but for it to end like that is heartbreaking, it really is.”
Atlanta wide receiver Russell Gage’s lost fumble with 2:18 remaining set up the Lions’ last possession at the Atlanta 37. The fumble was forced by Jalen Reeves-Maybin and recovered by Dean Marlowe.
“We felt like we had total control of the game and we were going to go down there and score,” said Lions coach Dan Campbell. “It was set up perfectly for us.”
The Falcons began the day knowing they had to win their final three regular-season games to protect hopes of making the playoffs. Even that may not be enough.
Ryan’s 19-yard pass to Kyle Pitts set up the go-ahead touchdown. Hurst beat linebacker Charles Harris, who spent the 2020 season with the Falcons, to snap a 13-13 tie.
The Lions answered with a 17-play drive that consumed 10 minutes, 26 seconds but stalled at the 5. Riley Patterson made a 26-yard field goal.
Without Goff, Detroit (2-12-1) couldn’t maintain momentum gained by last week’s surprising 30-12 win over Arizona. The Lions were called for six offside penalties.
Boyle completed 24 of 34 passes for 187 yards, including a 20-yard scoring pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown, and one interception.
The Lions also were without running back D’Andre Swift, who missed his fourth consecutive game with a sprained right shoulder despite returning to practice this week.
Detroit cornerback Amani Oruwariye was placed on injured reserve before the game with a thumb injury, ending his season.
Ryan completed 18 of 24 passes for 215 yards with one touchdown. Pitts caught six passes for 102 yards, including a 35-yard sideline catch in the third quarter.
ST. BROWN ON A ROLL
St. Brown had nine catches for 91 yards. He joined Calvin Johnson as the only Lions players with four consecutive games with eight or more catches.
LONG-AWAITED ATLANTA WIN
The Falcons finally earned their first true home win after five losses at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They were the designated home team for a 27-20 win in London over the New York Jets on Oct. 10.
Lions punter Jack Fox completed a 21-yard pass to KhaDarel Hodge on a fake punt in the second quarter, moving Detroit to the Atlanta 24. Three plays later, Boyle completed the 20-yard scoring pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Fox has passed for 38 yards this season, the most for a Lions punter since Tom Skladany’s 38 yards in 1980.
SHOES SAY IT ALL
Atlanta’s do-it-all running back Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t make the Pro Bowl despite excelling as a runner, receiver and return specialist. His 1,421 combined yards entering the game ranked fifth in the NFL.
Patterson made a comment about the Pro Bowl snub with a message written on a red cleat: “No Pro Bowl? No Problem!” A green Grinch was painted on his other shoe.
Patterson had seven carries for only 14 yards and lost one yard on his only catch.
Lions: RB Jason Cabinda did not return after leaving with a right knee injury in the first quarter. … TE Shane Zylstra was carted off the field with an apparent left knee injury in the third quarter.
Lions: play at Seattle next Sunday in their final road game of the season.
Falcons: visit Buffalo next Sunday.