On Thursday, Sept. 6, the National Football League regular season kicked off with a defensively dominant game between the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) and the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles (1-0).
With a final box score of 18-12, Eagles, the low scoring affair was full of three–and–outs, as both teams combined for a poor 12-31 on third down. Equally as detrimental to both offenses were the amount of penalties committed by both teams, as the Falcons had 15 penalties for a loss of 135 yards, and the Eagles had 11 penalties for a loss of 101 yards
Both Matt Ryan (21-43, 251 YDS, 1 INT) and Nick Foles (19-34, 117 YDS, 1 INT) struggled in the season opener, shaking off some rust that is expected to be gone by the end of the preseason. Great pass coverage by both defenses turned the game into a battle in the trenches, where Philadelphia’s unmatched defensive line depth won the game for the Eagles.
On the first drive of the game, the Falcons marched down the field on a 10 play, 73-yard drive, but were unable to score in the red zone. Upon getting within the Eagles’ 6-yard line, the Falcons gained five yards on first down with running back Devonta Freeman, 6.0 yards per carry on the night, getting stuffed on the 1–yard line on second down. In such close proximity to the goal line, the Falcons attempted a pass from Ryan to Freeman, which ended in an incompletion. Confident in his offense, Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn went for it on fourth-and-goal on the Eagles 1-yard line. On the ensuing play, the Eagles defense quickly broke free from their blocks and swarmed Freeman for a 1–yard loss on the rush attempt, turning the ball back over to Foles and the Eagles’ offense.
This trend of turning the ball over, between a failed fourth down attempt, multiple punts and an interception for each quarterback, told the tale for the entire game as a whole. The edge for the Eagles came from their running game, with Jay Ajayi putting the majority of the scoring on his back as he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns.
Not to be easily defeated, the Falcons’ offense marched down the field late in the fourth quarter, looking to score a touchdown, kick an extra point and gain one point over the Eagles without any time left on the clock. Ryan orchestrated the drive over the final two minutes of the game, trusting his top target Julio Jones (10 receptions for 169 yards on the night) to move the chains through the air. Then, Jones led offense reached the red zone, and witnessed Ryan throw four straight incompletions, including a fourth down incompletion that would’ve ended the game, if not for an illegal contact call on Eagles’ linebacker Jordan Hicks. The Falcons’ offense was given one last shot, with one second left on the game clock and a single down on the Eagles’ 5–yard line. Ryan, putting his faith in Jones once more, threw a 50/50 ball in the back left corner of the end zone. The pass was broken up by excellent coverage from cornerback Ronald Darby.
The incompletion was reminiscent of the divisional round of the playoffs from last season, in which the Eagles were leading by a score of 15-10, and Ryan threw a fourth-and-goal back shoulder fade to Jones in the end zone with under a minute left in the game, which also ended in an incompletion.
With back to back losses to the Eagles for the Falcons in their last two games played against them, it will be interesting to see how the Falcons fare both within their division and within the National Football Conference playoff picture in the coming 2018-2019 season.