Falcons want first true home win as Lions eye first road W

ATLANTA (AP) — Arthur Smith is running out of time to collect his first true home win in his debut season with the Atlanta Falcons.

Smith’s best opportunity could come Sunday against Detroit, when Lions first-year coach Dan Campbell will try again for his first road win.

The Falcons (6-8) also will be playing to protect their slim playoff hopes. Detroit (2-11-1) has won two of its last three games, including last week’s surprising 30-12 win over Arizona.

The Lions could be without starting quarterback Jared Goff, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday.

The Falcons are 0-5 in Atlanta this season. Atlanta was the designated home team when it beat the New York Jets 27-20 in London on Oct. 10.

The first home win would be important for Smith.

“We take a lot of pride in that,” Smith said Wednesday. “It’s not lost on us. … It means a lot that our fans have been great. They’ve showed up on the road. I love the passion of our fans and we need to reward them with the home win. That’s not lost on us.”

The series history favors Detroit. The road team has won the last five games in the series, including the Lions’ 23-22 win in Atlanta last season.

The Lions are 2-1 in December, providing hope for a strong finish.

“I’d like to think that,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to carry it over this week, but we’re starting to play a little bit better. Things are coming together the way you want them to. And now, we’ve got to keep getting better.”

The Lions are 0-6-1 on the road this season.

Detroit could be boosted by the return of running back D’Andre Swift, the former University of Georgia standout who has missed the last three games with a sprained right shoulder. Swift returned to practice this week but will be watched closely by Campbell.

“I want to know that he’s not thinking about the shoulder,” Campbell said. “That’s really the last part of this is that he has confidence in himself to take a shot.”

HARRIS FINDS A HOME

Outside linebacker Charles Harris, who spent the 2020 season with Atlanta, has flourished in his first season in Detroit. In 14 games, including 11 starts, Harris has 7 1/2 sacks, 15 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles.

Harris, the Dolphins’ first-round draft pick in 2017, had only 6 1/2 sacks and only nine starts in his first four seasons. His previous career high was three sacks with Atlanta last season.

“It’s night and day, I’ll tell you that as far as his confidence level, because a lot of things we’ve asked him to do this year he hadn’t done before,” said Lions assistant coach Kelvin Sheppard, adding Harris has played in pass coverage for the first time in his career.

“A lot of people get wrapped up in the sack total, and I take my hat off to him,” Sheppard said. “The sacks are beautiful. I love them … but you watch his stuff in the run game, in pass coverage. The past couple weeks, it is outstanding.”

Harris had 1 1/2 sacks and 12 tackles, including three for loss, in last week’s win over the Cardinals.

THANKS FOR THE INTERVIEW

Smith, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, interviewed to be Detroit’s coach before he was hired by Atlanta.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to talk to Detroit,” Smith said this week. “It’s great people that run that organization. Again, I just focus on what my circumstances were and the opportunity I had and thankfully it led here. … I was always thankful for that opportunity.”

BOYLE ON STANDBY

Tim Boyle, who passed for only 77 yards in his first career start in a 13-10 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 21, would be the likely fill-in starter for Goff. Boyle threw two interceptions only a few days after coming off the injured list following thumb surgery.

Boyle has had more time to prepare for his possible second start.

“In my opinion, it’s kind of night and day,” Boyle said, adding that before facing the Browns “I came off of I think 11 weeks of not throwing a football.”

Goff prepared for the game plan from home this week. Smith said the Falcons were preparing to face Goff while aware they needed a contingency plan if Goff isn’t cleared.

SCRATCHING THE SURFACE

Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts has 58 catches for 847 yards and is only the fifth rookie tight end all-time with at least 800 yards receiving. He could become only the fourth rookie tight end with at least 60 catches.

“I think that he’s been exactly who we thought he was,” said Smith. “He’s got the right mindset. I’d argue he’s just scratching the surface of a productive year with three to go.”

RUNNING BACK DEPTH

Thanks to Swift’s return, even on a limited basis, the Lions could have a sudden wealth of options at running back.

Backup Jamaal Williams returned from the COVID-19 reserve list this week. Campbell said Craig Reynolds, who ran for a career-high 112 yards against Arizona, will continue to see playing time.

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