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Falcons clinch home advantage through playoffs

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (C ) congratulates wide receiver Roddy White (L ) after his touchdown against the Detroit Lions during
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (C ) congratulates wide receiver Roddy White (L ) after his touchdown against the Detroit Lions during

(Reuters) - The Atlanta Falcons will enjoy home field advantage throughout the National Football Conference playoffs after beating the Detroit Lions 31-18 on Saturday.

Quarterback Matt Ryan threw four touchdown passes as the visiting Falcons, who last week walloped the Super Bowl champion New York Giants 34-0, improved their National Football League-leading record to 13-2.

However, All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson gave the Detroit fans something to cheer despite the team's seventh loss in a row as he broke the record for most receiving yards in a season.

Serenaded by chants of "Calvin, Calvin," Johnson caught 11 passes for 225 yards from quarterback Matthew Stafford to finish the game with 1,892 yards.

That eclipsed the 1,848 yards set by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers in 1995.

Atlanta ran up a 21-6 lead by intermission on a trio of scoring strikes by Ryan, who finished the game with a splendid completion line of 25-of-32 for 279 yards.

The Lions clawed back, closing to within 21-16 early in the fourth quarter before the Falcons responded with an 11-play, 78-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown flip from Ryan to tight end Michael Palmer to restore their cushion.

STEPPED UP

Ryan, who also hit speedy receiver Julio Jones in the back of the endzone for a 16-yard touchdown connection in the second quarter, raised his touchdown total to 31 for the season.

The Detroit Lions fell to 4-11 as Stafford threw 56 passes, completing 37 for 443 yards without a touchdown.

"They came out and pressured us a little bit in the third quarter and we stepped up in the fourth quarter and came out with the drives when we needed them," Ryan told reporters.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith said the long touchdown drive directed by Ryan was key.

"We didn't play very well there in the third quarter, we weren't able to slow them down," Smith said. "Matt made some big-time throws in that drive, and that's what Matt has been able to do for us all season long."

The NFC road to the Super Bowl now must go through Atlanta, where the Falcons are 7-0 this season at the Georgia Dome.

"It's huge," Ryan said. "At the beginning of the year, we wanted to make the playoffs and try and play our games at home. To accomplish that is perfect."

After the game, Ryan shared a moment with Johnson on the field.

"I gave him my congratulations," the quarterback said. "I'm a fan. He's an unbelievable player."

Johnson, who has said he was aiming to reach the 2,000-yard mark, needs 108 yards in Detroit's season finale against the Chicago Bears.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by John O'Brien)

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