We all knew that Falcons-Eagles had the chance to be ugly and sloppy. We just hoped that an offseason-long focus on the team’s weaknesses and the injuries Philadelphia was dealing with might translate into something a little more watchable than last year’s Divisional Round.
Instead, the Falcons got a brutal first half that saw them lead 6-3 when the two teams came back out of the locker room. The second half really didn’t look much better, with the offense struggling mightily to do much of anything of note against the Eagles’ potent defense, coupled with one or two borderline calls that took away big plays from Atlanta. The defense looked much better, but suffered some attrition (Keanu Neal, Desmond Trufant) and some bad lapses, particularly on a play where Nick Foles caught a pass. Just like he did in the Super Bowl.
But the defense still mostly did its job. The offense was the culprit here, and while it’s easy and tempting to hang that around Steve Sarkisian’s neck, the truth is that there were countless errors of execution that ultimately hurt Atlanta the most. Matt Ryan played a lousy game, period, with slow, lazy passes that turned into incompletions and interceptions at the worst possible times. When you’re playing a team as good as Philadelphia, you simply can’t afford to do that, and after Ryan had a strong playoff game against the Eagles earlier this year it was baffling to see him play so poorly. The rest of the offense simply picked back up where they left off.
So in summary, it was one of the most frustrating games you could possibly imagine for an opener, and the Falcons will need to look a hell of a lot better to go anywhere in 2018.
Here’s the quarter-by-quarter breakdown for you, friends.
The Falcons did stellar work getting into the red zone on their first drive, keyed by Julio running and catching the ball in typical Julio fashion. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they stalled out there, including a stuff on 4th and 1 that finished things off. A successful Atlanta drive that ended in zero points? That’s very, very Atlanta.
The Falcons’ defense, meanwhile, had something to prove. They created a quick three and out for Atlanta, and the Eagles needed to punt.
The next drive started off with a misfired pass, a good pickup by Tevin Coleman, and a first down scramble from Matt Ryan. A 26 yard catch and run by Tevin Coleman put the Falcons back in the red zone. Philly threw a red flag on a short Austin Hooper catch, but the call stood and the Eagles lost a timeout, and then on third down, an offsides call on Derek Barnett put the Falcons closer. The Falcons got repaid in ref karma when a borderline call against Philadelphia was missed on third down, and Atlanta settled for a field goal. At least they were on the board.
Falcons 3 - Eagles 0
The Eagles got a first down, but Brian Poole had something to say on the next play, sacking Nick Foles on first down for a seven yard loss. The Falcons were hit with an offsides call, but they got their revenge when Takk got a sack on third down. Eagles punted.
The Falcons, with time running down in the first quarter, started off mighty shaky. There was a missed pass to Julio Jones and Tevin Coleman getting dropped in the backfield, and that was that.
The Falcons attempted a meek little toss to Devonta Freeman, who desperately tried to find daylight before losing yards. Punt.
The Eagles just kept feeding Nelson Agholor, and they managed to get a first down out of doing so. They threw to Agholor again for a pickup and then managed to fire up another first down on a passing play before picking up close to nine yards with Jay Ajayi. Darren Sproles got loose a little on third down, the Eagles kept rolling, and an unfortunate (and I’d argue unwarranted) pass interference call on Desmond Trufant kept the Eagles moving on the subsequent third down. Also, Keanu Neal got hurt. The Eagles then got backed up by a holding call, missed a touchdown strike, got a short Corey Clement run, and then picked up a gain on third down that left them well short of the end zone. A short field goal attempt was good.
Falcons 3 - Eagles 3
The Falcons showed some signs of life on their next drive, with a beautiful route by Julio Jones resulting in a 23 yard catch, followed by a Mohamed Sanu catch and roughing the passer call that moved the Falcons further along. Matt Ryan’s next scramble caused him to break his brace (seriously), which resulted in a timeout. The Falcons couldn’t do enough and saw a missed Devonta Freeman (and offensive line) block lead to a Matt Ryan sack on third down. Thankfully, Matt Bryant was up to the task of drilling a 52 yard field goal, which is insane and preposterous and wonderful.
Falcons 6 - Eagles 3
The Eagles, by virtue of a bad return and a penalty, wound up on the five yard line. Jack Crawford blew up the line and nearly had Nick Foles in the end zone on first down, but Foles was able to sort of meekly throw it at the feet of a lineman. Unfortunately, the Eagles got some poor calls and a little luck from there, with Grady Jarrett getting a roughing the passer call for simply landing on Nick Foles a split second after he threw, while Desmond Trufant apparently got a holding call on a play where it wasn’t even clear Philly made the catch. The refs weren’t biased, the refs were just bad. Thankfully, a third down overthrow by Nick Foles got the Falcons out of the jam, and the Eagles punted.
The Falcons started their next drive with a first down pass for Julio Jones, followed by a terrifying almost interception for Matt Ryan, followed by a seven yard pickup for Devonta Freeman through the year. Then Ryan couldn’t connect on a short pass to Julio, and the Falcons had to punt.
The Eagles, meanwhile, went for it. There were so many flags to this point in the game, but somehow the Falcons didn’t get one when they tossed the ball deep downfield and Keanu Neal was in coverage. The Eagles did get a penalty on their punt when Foye Oluokun was blocked into the punter, but they decided to just kneel it and be done.
The Eagles had the ball, and they got some modest gains and a Robert Alford penalty got them moving. Unfortunately, Alford nearly had a pick he couldn’t quite come down with on 2nd and 9, but the Falcons got some quick tackling from Desmond Trufant to end the drive. Keanu Neal was hurt again. The Eagles punted.
The Falcons got a nice Devonta Freeman run and a short Julio Jones catch to start things off, but the big play came next, when Matt Ryan connected with Julio down the sideline for a 52 yarder that #11 bobbled on his way to the ground. It was ruled incomplete and the Falcons threw a challenge flag, which was not successful despite being (at worst) really close to a catch. Then Matt Ryan got hit with an intentional grounding call, a short Julio pass, and the Falcons had to punt. It was a catch.
The Eagles got moving on a horror show drive that saw Deion Jones and Desmond Trufant get hurt, running the “Philly Special 2” the announcers were primed to gush over and punching it in with Jay Ajayi. That gave them their first lead of the game.
Falcons 6 - Eagles 10
The pressure was on Atlanta to get things done and catch back up, and they didn’t cover themselves in glory early. A clipping call on Ryan Schraeder backed things way up, and the Falcons got to 3rd and 10 before Ronald Darby knocked a pass away from Julio Jones and the Falcons had to punt again.
Fortunately, the Eagles messed up their chances, thanks to two straight incompletions that went through receivers’ hands, and had to punt.
Atlanta got a penalty on their return, backing them up a bit, but looked like they might get moving after a decent start to the drive. Matt Ryan’s long pass to Julio Jones fell well short, however, and Eric Saubert had the ball taken away from Rodney McLeod. That would have been the end of it, but the Eagles screwed up big-time and touched the ball on the punt return and the Falcons got the ball back for another drive.
That drive was saved on what would have been a third down and five by an offsides call on the defense. The Falcons’ chances of getting any points were undone on the next third down when Matt Ryan threw a lousy ball to Julio Jones that resulted in an interception, giving the Eagles the ball back inside their own 10 yard line.
The Eagles got a first down, but that good work was quickly undone when another first down catch-to-be was popped loose by a big Damontae Kazee hit and intercepted by Deion Jones. It was a great play, and it put the Falcons back on the Eagles’ 25 with an opportunity to score.
This time, they did it. Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones with a zippy, high throw and then Tevin Coleman ran it beautifully for a touchdown, putting Atlanta back on top. Unfortunately, Jeff Overbaugh’s snap was juggled and Matt Bryant couldn’t get it down, resulting in a missed extra point.
Falcons 12 - Eagles 10
The Eagles weren’t able to do a whole hell of a lot on their next drive, eventually winding up at 3rd and 14 and missing on a pass that would have gotten them out of the hole. Two offseting holding calls on the Falcons and Eagles on the subsequent punt return forced a re-punt. The Falcons got slightly better field position out of it, so hey, good stuff.
They did not make the most of it. A penalty on Ryan Schraeder, the team’s 14th of the game, and a fumble by Matt Ryan that was recovered by Alex Mack put this team in an impossible position. Devonta Freeman picked up about 15 on a reception to at least put Matt Bosher in a better position to punt. On the return, special teams got nailed with a facemask penalty to improve Philadelphia’s field position, however.
The Eagles took advantage. A downfield strike to Mike Wallace didn’t yield fruit thanks to Robert Alford’s strong cornerback play, but a failed open field tackle by Vic Beasley against Darren Sproles meant a first down for the Eagles, who were closing in on the red zone. The Eagles weren’t able to get a first down with Jay Ajayi and then Takk had to leave the game, which left them on a 3rd and 1 against the Falcons’ beefiest front. The Falcons utterly failed to stop them, as Corey Clement rumbled for over 20 yards before Damontae Kazee made a difficult open field tackle to bring him down. Then Jay Ajayi rumbled for an easy touchdown featuring a couple of missed tackle opportunities by the Falcons defense. The Eagles had the lead back late. They also got the two point conversion.
Falcons 12 - Eagles 18
It was all on the line for the Falcons at this point, and at least they acted like they knew it. A short pass to Austin Hooper was followed up by a 36 yard gain by Julio Jones that featured both a sharp Matt Ryan throw and some brilliant work after the catch by #11. Then the Falcons got a missed pass and a sack followed up by Julio Jones picking a Matt Ryan throw up for a first down. Then Julio Jones got nine yards. Then the Falcons found themselves on third down again with Matt Ryan taking yet another sack. Then Mohamed Sanu bailed them out again with a nice grab over the middle of the field. Then Matt Ryan moved around for seven seconds and couldn’t connect on a pass. Then he overthrew Julio Jones, leaving 11 seconds on the clock. Then Ryan was hit as he threw, leaving the Falcons on fourth down. Then Ryan didn’t connect but the Eagles were called for illegal contact, leaving one second and a first down.
The final play of the game, fittingly, was a throw to Julio Jones. He could not come down inbounds with it, though, and the Falcons lost.