The Atlanta defense held rookie sensation Billy Sims to 21 yards in 14 carries today and scored three touchdowns on two fumble recoveries and a blocked punt, vaulting the Falcons to a 43-28 victory over the previously unbeaten Detroit Lions.
Atlanta built a 36-6 lead after three quarters and then had to survive a fourth-quarter rally that saw Lion quarterback Gary Danielson throw three touchdown passes.
Atlanta (3-2) also got a safety when Joel Williams sacked Danielson in the end zone and the Lions retaliated with a fourth-quarter safety of their own, nailing tiny Reggie Smith in the end zone on a kickoff return.
Sims went into the game with 539 yards, tops in the NFL. His total yardage today was only 15, since two pass receptions resulted in minus six yards. The way his defense performed caused Falcon Coach Leeman Bennett to say, "the first half was one of the best we've ever played."
The setback left the Lions with a 4-1 record, removing the final National Conference team from the unbeaten ranks. Atlanta handed San Francisco its first defeat a week ago. The Falcons lost by one point to Minnesota and three points to miami, both on field goals in the closing seconds.
The Falcons scored their first 17 points in a five-minute span late in the first quarter with Frank Reed returning a blocked punt 16 yards for Atlanta's first touchdown, Dbuddy Curry running in a fumble recovery from 30 yards out for the second and Tim Mazzetti kicking a 26-yard field goal after the Falcon defense had forced the Lions back to their own 8.
The Falcons got another 17 points in the second quarter -- this time on a 43-yard pass from Steve Bartkowski to Alfred Jenkins, a 42-yard fumble return by Joel Williams and a 33-yard field goal by Mazzetti.
That gave Atlanta a 34-6 halftime lead, with the Lions' only scoring in the first half coming on two field goals by Ed Murray, a 32-yarder in the opening minutes of the game and a 32-yarder as time ranb out in the half.
The Falcons widened their lead to 36-6 with 4:58 left in the third quarter with Willaims' sack of Danielson.
Danielson, who passed for 218 yards in the final period to wind up with 348 for the afternoon, threw a 43-yard TD pass to Fred Scott with 14:16 left in the game, a 79-yard TD pass to Leonard Thompson with 10:59 left and a six-yard TD toss to Scott with 9:27 left.
Adding in the safety the Lions got when the Falcons bobbled the ensuing kickoff, Detroit had 22 points in less than five minutes.