Entering the Dome on Monday evening was a disheartening affair, as large waves of white and green poured into the Falcons stadium. For large portions of the second half, the Philly faithful made a tremendous amount of noise as their team mounted an ambitious comeback on the road. But it was not meant to be, and the underdog Falcons - who almost no one picked to win - would scrape by with the victory in a close fought game. Here are my three key takeaways from the season opener.
For the first time in a long time, this could be a complete team
Despite a respectable stat line of 23/34 298 yards with 2TD and 2INT, the reality is that Matt Ryan didn't have his best game. Don't get me wrong, he came through in some key moments, but Ryan had at least 4 or 5 throws that he wishes he could have back. In the past, this would have surely meant that the team was going to take the loss.
But the Falcons still won. Against a quality team, no less.
There's no denying that the Falcons defense looked dramatically different last night. They rattled the Eagles, generated pressure and came away with turnovers. Even though they had a rough third quarter (which is true of the entire team), they bounced back in a big way in the fourth. First, with Paul Worrilow stuffing a third and one and forcing a field goal (which was missed) and with the final defensive drive that ended with a Ricardo Allen interception. For the first time in a long time, the defense came through to help close out a game.
But it wasn't just the D, either. The Falcons were able to establish a respectable running game against a formidable front 7. Yes - there were some busted runs, but they would finish the night with over 100 yards rushing combined. In fact, it was the running game that helped to calm things down in the tail end of the third quarter - taking some of the pressure off of Ryan and the passing game.
And perhaps most importantly, our special teams units did an amazing job as well. Matt Bryant's ageless leg put points on the board while Matt Bosher consistently punted with accuracy and power. The coverage units were solid all night, and played a huge role in pinning the Eagles back at their own 6 yard line at the end of the game with a phenomenal tackle by Levine Toilolo. Which leads into my next point...
Special Teams really do matter
We say it all the time, but the game against the Eagles showcased it repeatedly. The reality is that our special teams units were a critical piece of the victory on Monday night. Matt Bryant nailed all four of his field goals, including a long of 47. Matt Bosher averaged a ridiculous 51.5 yards per punt with a long of 62. The coverage units held the Eagles to a total of 25 punt return yards on 3 attempts and did a fantastic job of pinning the Eagles deep in their own territory at the end of the game.
As fans, we often overlook special teams in hopes of finding the next great offensive or defensive player deeper on the roster. We want to emphasize their potential to contribute in those two phases, but often forget the importance of their ability to contribute on special teams. The game against the Eagles emphasized why those contributions truly matter. If it weren't for special teams, we would be 0-1 right now.
If this team is going to have sustained success - not only this year, but for years to come - it will be critical for this year's rookie class to shine through. If last night was any indication, we're off to a good start. Though he didn't record a sack, Vic Beasley was disruptive. Going against one of the best left tackles in the game in Jason Peters, Beasley was not likely going to get a sack. But he batted a third down pass down and also generated some pressure. Tevin Coleman saw the majority of snaps at RB and did a solid job, gaining 80 yards on 20 carries and showing his potential for big plays. Finally, Grady Jarrett stepped in and delivered a huge QB hit that would result in an early interception by William Moore.
It was the first game, so I don't want to crown these guys just yet - but it was a nice opening night for three of our rookies. If they can continue to develop, this could be a very good class to build off of for the Dan Quinn era.
What are your takeaways from the Falcons vs. Eagles game?