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Stafford hobbles off, Lions lose to Falcons 23-16

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, right, grabs Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's face mask during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, right, grabs Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's face mask during the first quarter of an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
By Noah Trister
AP Sports Writer / October 23, 2011

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DETROIT—Matthew Stafford hobbled off the field, sat down and began having his shoeless right foot taped.

This was the sight Detroit fans have dreaded, and although the quarterback's injury may have been only a scare, the Lions are suddenly looking wobbly after a promising start.

Stafford was shaken up when Detroit's final drive stalled late in the fourth quarter, and the Lions lost their second straight game, 23-16 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Stafford said he would have tried to come back if his team had regained possession at the end of the game, but Atlanta was able to run out the clock.

"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. He was 15 of 32 for 183 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. His last pass fell incomplete with 1:30 remaining, and he looked gimpy when he came off the field.

"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.

"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."

Matt Ryan ran for a touchdown and threw for another, briefly leaving the game because of his own injury in the second half before returning to help Atlanta (4-3) to the win.

On Detroit's final drive, a pass interference penalty against Atlanta was overturned because instant replay showed defensive tackle Corey Peters had tipped the ball.

The Lions (5-2) have lost their luster after their perfect start.

"We obviously got off to a good start and we had some momentum. It is a long season. We have a lot of players that understand that, a lot of players that have been through a lot of tough times," Schwartz said. "We knew there was going to be some rough spots that we had to persevere through. This is one of them."

Calvin Johnson caught a 57-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to pull Detroit within four points. Matt Bryant's third field goal of the game gave the Falcons a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.

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 replay showed Peters barely grazed the ball thrown for tight end Tony Scheffler, meaning there wasn't pass interference.

One incompletion later, Atlanta had the ball back for good.

Schwartz and the Falcons' 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.

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 in the third when 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."

Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez caught five passes for 62 yards, giving him 1,104 career receptions to trail only Jerry Rice in NFL history. Michael Turner ran 27 times -- including a 50-yard gain -- and finished with 122 yards rushing for the Falcons.

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. Ryan later threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White to put Atlanta ahead 17-6 at halftime.

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