DETROIT — Matthew Stafford took his first snap as a pro and perfectly executed a play-action pass.
The problem: Keary Colbert dropped the ball.
Welcome to the Detroit Lions, kid.
Stafford threw a touchdown, an interception and had some passes dropped in his pro debut that Detroit rallied to win 27-26 over the Atlanta Falcons on Jason Hanson’s 47-yard field goal as time expired.
“They’re going to drop some balls just like I’m going to miss some,” he said. “I was excited. I felt like I had a good day.”
Stafford, the No. 1 pick of the NFL’s first 0-16 team, was 7-of-14 for 114 yards. He was pressured into making a poor pass, which was intercepted and returned by Tony Gilbert for a score. He responded by leading an 80-yard drive that ended with him looking left, throwing right and taking a hit on a 25-yard TD pass to Derrick Williams.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz was impressed with how Stafford bounced back quickly after making a mistake.
Schwartz plans to start Stafford in the second exhibition game, but told reporters not to read into anything regarding the QB competition.
“They don’t put preseason games on your tombstone or your resume,” Schwartz said.
Detroit’s Daunte Culpepper was 5-of-6 for 41 yards and moved around enough to show he’s healthy after a knee injury stunted his career.
“I feel like I’ve finally gotten back to the player I want to be,” he said.
The Falcons, meanwhile, just hope Matt Ryan and Michael Turner perform as they did last year for them and 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez and veteran linebacker Mike Peterson prove to be valuable additions.
In limited chances, each looked good.
Ryan was 5-of-7 for 33 yards. Turner ran for a 40-yard TD. Gonzalez caught a pass to convert a third down on the opening drive. Peterson had a team-high three tackles in the first quarter.
“We just didn’t get the outcome that we wanted,” coach Mike Smith said. “But I think there were some good things, some bad things and some ugly things.”
The Lions scratched 16 players, including six projected starters and two of the team’s top three picks, from the lineup with injuries. Schwartz said about half of those players would’ve played if it was the regular season.
Culpepper and Stafford didn’t have any of their top three receivers, including Calvin Johnson, and were without first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
That created opportunities and Colbert failed to take advantage, dropping three of Stafford’s passes.
“I feel like I could have made every one of those plays,” Colbert said. “That would have made his day look better from the outside, but he had a good day anyway.”
Ryan is clearly the man under center for Atlanta after being drafted No. 3 overall, starting every game last season, becoming Offensive Rookie of the Year and leading the team to the playoffs.
“We were a little bit rusty,” he said. “But that’s what the preseason is for.”
Turner, who also had a lot to do with Atlanta’s surprising season, had 63 yards rushing on six carries and ran into a hole and through a couple defenders on a long TD that put Atlanta ahead 7-3.
“It always feels good to get back into the groove of things,” he said.
Detroit took an early lead on Hanson’s field goal. Sixth-round pick Aaron Brown gave the Lions a chance to go ahead again with a 32-yard run for a score in the third period and a 45-yard TD reception with 2:05 left, when he was flagged for celebrating with a flip.
“I don’t have the size,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Brown said. “But I make up for it with speed.”
The Lions got the ball back with no timeouts at their 27 with 1:36 remainder and third-string quarterback Drew Stanton ran for 18 yards to set up Hanson’s winning kick.
“I got goosebumps when Jason hit that,” Schwartz said after his first game as a head coach at any level.
Notes: Falcons CB Chris Houston (hamstring), DE Kroy Biermann (foot) and Lions LB Cody Spencer (knee) were injured during the game. ... Detroit is wearing “93” and “RS” decals on the back of its helmets this season, honoring former DT Corey Smith and director of security Ricky Sandoval, both of whom died earlier this year. Smith died in a boating accident in the Gulf of Mexico. and Sandoval passed away after a three-plus year battle with cancer.