When Falcons fans think back on their burgeoning rivalry with the Eagles over the past few seasons, those thoughts generally turn to darkness. Atlanta had lost three straight to Philadelphia since 2016, with their last win coming during the 2015 season—which, coincidentally, was the last time the game was played in Atlanta.
In 2016, the Eagles were the only team to actually stifle the Falcons historic offense: Philadelphia was the only defense to hold the Falcons to less than 23 points during the entire season.
In the 2017 playoffs, the Falcons met the Eagles once again. This time it was in the Divisional round, and the game quickly turned into a defensive slugfest. The Falcons famously were unable to get a TD after 1st-and-goal, and lost the game 15-10.
The Falcons then opened the 2018 season with a rematch, and the game actually played out in a remarkably similar way. The two defenses controlled the game, and Atlanta once again found themselves down by less than a TD late in the contest. Again the Falcons drove down to the end zone, and again they were stymied and unable to punch it in. They lost in a hauntingly familiar manner, 18-12.
When Falcons fans saw the Eagles early on the schedule in 2019, a lot of pessimism surrounded the game. That feeling of inevitable disappointment only increased after Atlanta put forth a total catastrophe of a performance against the Vikings in Week 1. Even coming off a strong opening performance, the Eagles would’ve been a tough matchup: a top NFC contender with a very good defense, elite OL, rising star Carson Wentz at QB, and one of the deepest receiving corps in football.
The Falcons were certainly tested on Sunday Night Football. Atlanta got out to an early 3-0 lead, but the game was within a single score for virtually the entire contest. Matt Ryan had stretches of brilliance paired with a trio of very bad throws which led to 3 INTs. On the other side, Desmond Trufant came down with two INTs off Wentz and the special teams forced a turnover on the kickoff after hafltime.
Neither team played perfectly, but both gave their all to come away with the win. Late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons found themselves in another terribly familiar situation. After holding the lead for the entire game, the Eagles took a 20-17 advantage on a long TD drive with about 3 minutes remaining in the game. It would once again be up Ryan and the offense to drive down the field and get points to either win or tie the game.
This time, the Falcons pulled it off in spectacular fashion. On 4th-and-3, Ryan tossed a quick screen to Julio Jones—who was sprung by key blocks from LT Jake Matthews and WR Mohamed Sanu—and Jones did the rest, taking the ball 54 yards for a TD. Atlanta took a 24-20 lead. For the first time in recent memory against the Eagles, it was now up to the defense to win the game.
Atlanta’s defense made Philadelphia work for every yard. They forced three third downs and two fourth downs on the Eagles’ final drive. This final series featured two very unlucky plays, one for each team: a killer drop by Nelson Agholor down the sideline that could have been a TD, and a miraculous Wentz throw as he was going to the ground that wound up going for 43 yards on 4th and 14.
After that ridiculous 4th down conversion, hope was understandably hard to come by for Falcons fans. This was all too familiar—another late game drive that the defense would inevitably give up. Only this time, they didn’t give it up.
The Falcons forced an incompletion, then tackled Darren Sproles for a 2-yd gain. On 3rd-and-8, Wentz’s pass to TE Zach Ertz fell incomplete. Another 4th down attempt loomed, this time 4th-and-8. Wentz found his top target, Ertz, once again near the first down marker. Ertz made the catch and attempted to reach for the first down, but second-year CB Isaiah Oliver delivered a powerful hit that prevented Ertz from getting any forward momentum. The ball was initially ruled short of the first down, and later upheld upon review.
The game was clearly too close for comfort, and the Falcons were far from perfect in this performance. But, at the end of the day, they managed to get a win against a rival and fellow NFC contender—one they had failed to beat three straight times over the past few seasons, almost always in the same manner. Instead of failing to find the end zone when they needed a go-ahead TD, Ryan and Jones delivered. Instead of giving up a TD on the final drive of the game on defense, the Falcons held firm.
The two biggest issues of the team over the last few seasons—red zone offense and giving up leads late in games—were still present against the Eagles. But instead of ultimately failing, the Falcons persevered and found a way to win.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Falcons managed to exorcise some of their worst demons in Week 2 of the 2019 season. There’s a lot of football left, however, and there’s still plenty we need to see from this team before we can feel confident in their chances of returning to the playoffs. But heading into a winnable Week 3 game at 1-1 with a win over a fierce rival, instead of 0-2 with an all-too-familiar loss, is a huge advantage for this team. Let’s see if they can convert it into a strong follow-up performance on Sunday.