The Detroit Lions played small ball as long as they could and as well as they could.
In the end, they came up short -- nine yards short, to be exact -- -- of completing what would have been a storybook finish for the Lions and backup quarterback Tim Boyle.
With a first down at the Falcons' nine-yard line, there were 39 seconds left in Sunday's game when Boyle took the snap from center and threw the ball hoping to connect with a receiver.
Instead, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun intercepted the pass thrown over the middle to preserve a 20-16 victory for the Falcons.
In a season of close losses, this one had its own identity. It also had a common thread of grit and resolve that has kept the Lions competing hard despite the losses that have left them with a 2-12-1 record with two games left.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at that thread as spoken by running back Jamaal Williams. There is also head coach Dan Campbell's assessment of Boyle's performance and the team's effort, takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what's trending with the Lions and the Bottom Line.
We start with a player's view from Jamaal Williams.
1. Williams speaks: Williams is one of the Lions' most upbeat players. He lightens the mood where he is -- on the practice field, the locker room, the weight room.
But playing football is serious business. Losing is not fun.
The Lions do not compete as hard as they have week in and week out because they enjoy losing.
Williams led the Lions' running game Sunday with 77 yards on 17 carries.
"Losing isn't something we ever want to do, or is OK to do," he said in a postgame interview on the Lions Radio Network.
"Losing is never acceptable to us. We've got to keep playing as a team. On to the next one. Whoever's out there, we all play for each other. We all trust each other.
"This isn't college. It's pro. The best thing about this team is we all play for each other. Forget the record. Let's go out and play -- do our job."
2. Quarterback review: Boyle threw low-risk, high-percentage passes for much of the game.
That's what made the game-ending interception surprising. With first down at the nine and 39 seconds left, there was no rush to rush or take a chance.
All things considered, Boyle was better than he was in his first NFL start four weeks earlier vs. the Browns. He passed for 77 yards with two interceptions in that game. Against the Falcons, he completed 24 of 34 passes for 187 yards, one TD and the one interception.
"He improved," Campbell said. "That's all I was looking for. I wanted to see him function as an NFL quarterback and move us down the field.
"I thought he did some really good things."
Boyle made only two throws that Campbell said he wished he had back -- a sideline throw to wide receiver Josh Reynolds, and the interception.
3. Turning point: Just three plays after Riley Patterson's third field goal cut Atlanta's lead to 20-16, the Lions' defense got the ball back for the offense.
Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin stripped the ball away from Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage. Safety Dean Marlowe recovered at the Falcons' 37 with 2:18 left.
The Lions' offense took over and moved the ball, going 28 yards on five plays to reach the nine-yard line with a first down. All the momentum was on the Lions' side -- until the interception.
Reeves-Maybin led the Lions with eight tackles. He also had a pass defended.
4. Takeaways, defense:
- Reeves-Maybin: In addition to the forced fumble he had eight tackles and a pass defensed. "He's a football player is what he is," Campbell said.
- Sack time: The Lions sacked Falcons QB Matt Ryan three times on the Falcons' first possession. They pressured him but never got another sack.
- On the run: It was another week when the Lions' won the battle up front. The Falcons had 47 yards on 18 carries, for an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
5. Takeaways, offense:
- Dead zone: The Lions were 0-for-4 in the red zone.
- St. Brown: Another day, another big game for rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. He had nine catches for 91 yards, with a 24-yard TD on a catch when he dragged a defender into the end zone with him. That gives him 36 catches in his last four games.
- Shutout: The offensive line pitched one in protecting Boyle. He was not sacked on 34 drop backs. The Falcons had only two QB hits. They went into the game ranked last in the NFL with only 16 sacks.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- Strong leg: Punter Jack Fox averaged 54.5 yards on two punts with a net of 48.0.
- Strong arm: Fox connected with wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge on a 21-yard completion on a fake punt.
- Falcons' return star: Cordarrelle Patterson was held relatively in check by the Lions' kickoff coverage unit. He averaged 26.3 yards on three kickoff returns.
7. What's trending:
- Up: Lions' run defense. It was good again.
- Down: False starts. The Lions had six. That's six too many.
- Even: Patterson made three more field goals, making him 10-for-10 on field goals since he took over.
8. Bottom line: In two starts for the Lions, Boyle has dropped back 57 times, He hasn't been sacked, and he hasn't run once.