Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith talks after an NFL...

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith talks after an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Credit: AP/Paul Sancya

ATLANTA — Arthur Smith was forced to accept the ugly truth of “some tough lessons learned” from his Atlanta Falcons' lopsided loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

The 20-6 score was bad but from an offensive standpoint, it felt much worse than a two-touchdown margin. Desmond Ridder was sacked seven times, the Falcons (2-1) moved past the Detroit 20 only once and Atlanta's running game was shut down. The offense managed one field goal in each half.

Too often, it wasn't just that the Falcons' offense was beaten. They lost plays before they even had a chance.

“They beat us in every way possible,” Smith said.

Smith said the Lions “beat us off the snap and it was right (away). If it’s the crowd, or whatever it is, we got to do a better job getting into that. We didn’t even get the play started.”

It's possible at the end of the season the Falcons will look back on their first loss as a sign the Lions were ready to rise toward the top of the NFC. For now, the reality is Smith must accept his team is not close to being able to make that claim. He needs to figure out how to move forward with a fresh approach on offense.

Smith expressed confidence in Ridder, saying the QB “gave us a chance.” Ridder accepted blame for holding the ball too long and deflected criticism from his offensive line.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder talks after an NFL football...

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder talks after an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. Credit: AP/Paul Sancya

There were times Ridder simply had no time to react. The Falcons attempted to use play-action passes before first establishing their run game, and the Lions weren't fooled. Rookie Bijan Robinson had an 11-yard run but managed only 22 yards on his other nine carries.

The Lions' defense dared Ridder to win through the air, and the young quarterback lacked the protection to accept the challenge.

The strength of Atlanta's offensive line and offense in general is the running game. The Falcons can't afford to abandon that strength.

WHAT'S WORKING

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) fumbles as he is...

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) fumbles as he is sacked by Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Detroit. Hutchinson recovered the ball on the play. Credit: AP/Al Goldis

Give Atlanta's defense credit for providing Ridder and the offense an opening to gain momentum. Leading 13-3, the Lions were held scoreless in the third quarter. Grady Jarrett, David Onyematta and Calais Campbell showed they are an imposing front. The Falcons had no sacks, but Jarrett and Onyematta combined for five quarterback hurries.

Meanwhile, Kaden Elliss, Jessie Bates, Richie Grant and Troy Andersen made big plays in the middle of the defense. The return of cornerback Jeff Okudah from a foot injury adds depth. Okudah is expected to eventually start alongside A.J. Terrell.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

A lack of explosive plays again hurt the passing game. Tight ends Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith each had five catches but combined for only 78 yards.

Drake London, the 2022 No. 8 overall pick and projected top wide receiver, had two catches for 31 yards. London's 28-yard reception was a highlight for Ridder and a too-rare example of the duo's big-play potential.

STOCK UP

Bates has three interceptions through three games, including a third-quarter pick. Bates has played like the veteran defensive captain Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot hoped to land.

STOCK DOWN

One week after missing an extra point against Green Bay, Younghoe Koo missed a 47-yard field goal, pushing the attempt right. He was good on attempts from 48 and 24 yards.

INJURIES

Andersen was carted off the field with a right shoulder injury at the end of the game. Smith said Monday the severity of the injury, which could be season-ending, was not certain.

KEY NUMBER

2.8 — Atlanta netted only 183 yards on 65 plays — one more than Detroit — while averaging a meager 2.8 yards per play. The Falcons' proud running attack was held to 2.0 yards per carry — 44 yards on 20 attempts.

NEXT STEPS

The Falcons will play Jacksonville at London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday in a home game for the Jaguars.

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