Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons are the Kings of Collapse: No deficit or lead's safe with them

Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
·6 min read

A lead in the NFL is only as good as the team holding it, which helps explain why the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons have been a part of some of football’s most epic collapses in recent years.

The Lions had lost six straight games in which they held double-digit leads dating back to last season before destroying the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, 34-16, in a wire-to-wire win.

They’ve blown 11 second-half leads in 37 games under Matt Patricia, and have pittered away leads of 17, 11 and 14 points in their three losses this year.

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia walks off the field  after the 35-29 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field, Sunday, October 4, 2020.
Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia walks off the field after the 35-29 loss to the New Orleans Saints at Ford Field, Sunday, October 4, 2020.

As sickening as those numbers are, the Falcons have been worse.

Twice this year Atlanta has lost games in which ESPN put its win probability at better than 99%. In Week 2, the Falcons put up 39 points, did not have a turnover and led by 15 with five minutes to play, but inexplicably failed to fall on a spinning onside kick in the final minutes as the Dallas Cowboys rallied for a 40-39 victory.

A week later, the Falcons wasted a 16-point lead in the final seven minutes against a Chicago Bears team that benched starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky midway through the game. The Bears, 5-1 and in first place in the NFC North, rallied from a 17-point fourth quarter hole against the Lions in Week 1.

I’ve said before the Lions and Falcons are like the Spider-Man meme where the real superhero and the imposter one are pointing at each other, only there’s nothing super about either team.

The Lions’ cluster of monumental collapses — they’ve blown double-digit leads nine times under Patricia, most in the NFL since 2018, according to ESPN — is a relatively new phenomenon.

The Falcons’ epic fails date back slightly further, to Super Bowl LI, when they raced to a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots then allowed 31 unanswered points in the most stunning crumblingin NFL history.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Sept. 24, 2017.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, Sept. 24, 2017.

Patricia, in a weird bit of fate, was defensive coordinator for that Patriots team.

“I’m not really going to speak on Atlanta,” Patricia said Friday. “Obviously, you lose that last game of the year, and I’ve been in that one, on the other side of that, a couple of times, too. That’s always a hard one. But I think, again, the biggest key for every team that’s in those situations is just to reset that next year.”

The Falcons reset, but never seemed to recover from that Super Bowl loss.

They won 10 games and made the playoffs in 2017, but have gotten progressively worse since and last week fired head coach Dan Quinn and replaced him with Raheem Morris.

Morris said he’s not familiar with the Spider-Man meme when asked about the similarities between the Lions and Falcons, but he acknowledged there’s a psychology to winning in the NFL, something both teams have struggled with in recent years.

“I’ve been coaching in this league for a long time and I’ve been a part of some great comebacks and also some miracle losses,” he said. “One was in the Super Bowl and one was versus Peyton Manning (in 2003, when he rallied the Indianapolis Colts to a win over Morris’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers after trailing by 21 points with four minutes to play). So I don’t think there’s anything that’s to it. I think it just happens in that day and you’ve got to prepare for each day like it’s (the) first.”

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford scrambles with the ball against Jacksonville Jaguars safety Josh Jones during the first half at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford scrambles with the ball against Jacksonville Jaguars safety Josh Jones during the first half at TIAA Bank Field, Oct. 18, 2020.

Bedfellows in misery, the Lions (2-3) and Falcons (1-5) are similar in ways that go beyond their inability to hold a lead.

Both have more talent on their rosters than their records would indicate. Both have potentially potent offenses, with best friends Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan at quarterback. Both have leaky defenses that rank in the bottom 10 of the NFL in points allowed. Both are coming off impressive victories they hope will jumpstart their seasons. And for both franchises, this year represents a potential crossroads.

“I guess, yeah, you could say (we’re similar),” Lions running back Adrian Peterson said. “If you think about the talent on both sides of the ball, the comparisons that you made, yeah. But listen, it’s the National Football League so you can’t take it easy on no teams or think you’re going to just go in and beat a team, and the Vikings found that out when they played the Falcons last week. But when you look at them as an overall team, you know that they’re talented. You know that they’re talented offensively, defensively. They have playmakers. And it was just about them clicking.”

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The Falcons hung 40 points on the Minnesota Vikings last week when they intercepted three Kirk Cousins passes, got big days from Ryan (371 yards passing, four touchdowns) and Julio Jones (eight catches, 137 yards, 2 TDs) and seemed to get a lift from Morris’ elevation to head coach.

If they somehow claw their way back into playoff contention — the Falcons, like the Lions, are in the midst of a winnable stretch of games — Morris will be a leading candidate for the full-time job.

The Lions are clinging to their own playoff aspirations and with just one game against an above-.500 team between now and the end of November, and cannot afford a relapse of their losing ways against the Falcons — no matter how big a lead, or deficit, they face.

"Do I think they’re a better team than us? No," Peterson said. "I’m excited for Sunday to come so we can just go out there and handle our business and do what we need to do."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

Lead by example

Lions' blown second half leads under Patricia

2020

Week 1 vs. Chicago Bears: Led 23-6 entering the fourth quarter, lost 27-23

2019

Week 1 at Arizona Cardinals: Led 24-6 with 12 minutes to play, tied 27-27

Week 4 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Led 30-27 with 1 minute to play, lost 34-30

Week 6 at Green Bay Packers: Led 22-13 with 10 minutes to play, lost 23-22

Week 12 at Washington: Led 16-13 with 2 minutes to play, lost 19-16

Week 13 at Chicago Bears: Led 7-6 at the start of the third quarter, lost 20-13

Week 16 at Denver Broncos: Led 17-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, lost 27-17

Week 17 vs. Green Bay Packers: Led 20-13 with 6 minutes to play, lost 23-20

2018

Week 4 at Dallas Cowboys: Led 24-23 with 1 minute to play, lost 26-24

Week 12 vs. Chicago Bears: Led 13-9 at the start of the fourth quarter, lost 23-16

Week 15 at Buffalo Bills: Led 13-7 with 11 minutes to play, lost 14-13

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions taking on only team worse than them at holding leads