The Philadelphia Eagles kicked off the NFL season by defeating the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night by the final score of 18-12 in front of a raucous crowd at Lincoln Financial Field.
The night began with a weather delay that postponed the game as well as the banner raising by 35 minutes. However, once the weather cleared up, the Philadelphia faithful witnessed a moment that they have been dreaming of for decades. The Eagles unfurled their 2017 Super Bowl banner, and an already excited crowd turned raucous. The Philadelphia Eagles were set to defend their Super Bowl title, and it began in much the same way that the divisional round of last year’s playoffs ended, with a goal line stand.
Much like how the Falcons’ season ended last year, the team got inside the Philadelphia 10-yard line but failed to convert when it mattered. Matt Ryan lobbed the ball up to Julio Jones on the left side of the end zone, and this time Jones caught the ball. However, a heads up play by cornerback Ronald Darby to push Jones, who was in the air making the catch, out of bounds resulted in another close Atlanta loss.
How poetic for Philadelphia to defeat Atlanta in the same fashion that they used to move past Atlanta in the divisional round of the 2017 NFL playoffs. The Philadelphia defense came through when it mattered once again while the Atlanta offense’s struggles inside the red zone continued.
The Falcons finished the opening game of the season going a terrible 1 for 5 in the red zone. Atlanta didn’t have much trouble moving the ball up and down the field throughout the night, but once they got inside the red zone their offense fell apart. Some credit can be given to a stout, aggressive Philadelphia defense led by Jim Schwartz, but Atlanta’s playcalling once inside the red zone was just awful.
Speaking of the Eagles defense, Philadelphia only won the game due to an outstanding 60-minute effort by their defense. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan never really got enough time to get settled in the pocket, which was part of the reasons why he finished the game going 21 for 43 with 251 yards and an interception.
Philadelphia prides itself on having great depth along the defensive line. On Thursday night, Chris Long and Fletcher Cox absolutely demolished and tore through the Falcons offensive line. Long, one of the Eagles’ rotational pieces along that vaunted defensive line, totaled four tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. It seemed like Long was always finding his way around the quarterback. While Long was doing a great job at flying around the end of the line, Cox was constantly disrupting the middle of the line of scrimmage. Cox said in the offseason that he wanted to win Defensive Player of the Year this season, and if he continues to play like he did on Thursday, he certainly has a good chance. He totaled two tackles, one sack and four quarterback hits.
Cox made his presence felt early and often, starting with a huge run-stuffing tackle of Devonta Freeman inside the Eagles 5-yard line on Atlanta’s first drive of the game. The play showcased his ability to get off of blocks and quickly find his way to the football. On the play, Cox saw the hole open up and then quickly got over and stuffed Freeman, preventing an easy touchdown.
Some other defensive standouts during Thursday night’s game were linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerback Ronald Darby. Hicks, in his first game back from tearing his achilles last season, was all over the place. He finished the game with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and one pass deflection. The Eagles hope that Hicks, who has the talent to be a top linebacker in the league, can put together a healthy season this year. Darby was constantly making his presence felt while guarding Julio Jones most of the night. While Jones still got his share of catches and yards, he failed to hit the end zone and didn’t provide much support on third down due to Darby’s quickness and ball hawking abilities. Darby finished the game with six tackles and three pass deflections.
The Philadelphia offense needed a big effort from the defense in order to get the win on Thursday night. The offense, starting with quarterback Nick Foles, struggled to put any drives together throughout much of the night. Foles finished the game with only 117 yards and an interception. The deep ball wasn’t working at all for Foles and the Philadelphia offense, as best shown by Nelson Agholor’s stat line of eight catches for 33 yards.
Down 6-3 midway into the third quarter, the Philadelphia offense only totaled 150 yards and the boo birds were beginning to fly in Lincoln Financial Field. However, Foles and head coach Doug Pederson sparked the struggling offense with another special play call. In what has been dubbed the Philly Philly, the Eagles executed another trick play involving Foles receiving a pass out of the backfield, this time from Nelson Agholor. The play was perfectly executed and resulted in a first down and a gain of 15 yards.
The crowd as well as the offense gained some momentum after that brilliant play, and the Eagles later that drive were able to capitalize and score their first touchdown of the season on a one yard run from Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi, as well as the rest of the running back crew, helped to pick up the slack of a poor night from Foles and the passing game. Pederson didn’t use Ajayi heavily in the first half, relying on Darren Sproles and Corey Clement for most of the first half carries. However, he brought on the heavy hitting Ajayi in the second half to much success. Ajayi ran all over a tired Atlanta defense, totaling 62 yards and two touchdowns. One of the storylines to watch with the Philadelphia offense will be how Pederson decides to split up the carries between Ajayi, Clement and Sproles. On Thursday night, he used the right formula and that helped lead the team to their first win of the new season.
On the injury front, quarterback Carson Wentz still has not yet been cleared for contact. Wentz has been looking sharp in both practices and pre-game workouts, but the doctors have not given him the go ahead to play in games. For Philadelphia, that means more weeks of having Foles as the quarterback.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Wentz could miss several weeks still as he gets back up to 100 percent coming back from a torn ACL and LCL. The Eagles are not going to rush Wentz back onto the field, especially when they have Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to fill in for now. However, Foles is going to need to improve his play on the field if the Eagles offense is going to improve on their porous result against the Falcons. The Eagles have a couple of favorable matchups against both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts, which is another reason why the team will not rush Wentz back from this injury.
The Philadelphia Eagles next take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 16 at 1 p.m. on FOX.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
A student at Shippensburg University studying Communications Journalism, Matt is a diehard Philly sports fan who is trying to pursue his dream of covering a Philly sports team.