In the 11 days between the Eagles' preseason finale and their regular season opener against the Falcons, fans dreamt of an offense that was equal parts methodical and explosive, a defense that paired discipline with aggression and a pace of play that left opponents clutching their knees and gasping for air. In the second half of Monday night's 26-24 loss in Atlanta, that's exactly what they got. The first half, though, is one that head coach Chip Kelly, his players, and the fans will look to quickly put behind them.
The Eagles mustered just 125 yards and two first downs in the opening 30 minutes of the nationally televised game, entering halftime down 20-3 thanks to a 10-point flurry by the Falcons in the final 1:10 of the second quarter. The deflated feeling was palpable on the faces of the Philadelphia players coming off the field at intermission, but coming out of their tunnels for the second half it was as if the two teams had switched uniforms.
After an interception by safety Walter Thurmond on third play of the third quarter, the Eagles quickly capitalized on their position inside the Atlanta red zone, scoring on an 8-yard off-tackle rush by DeMarco Murray. Minutes later, after an unwavering stand by the Philadelphia defense, the Eagles got the ball back on the brink of their own goal line. Within a matter of minutes, though, they had proudly marched down the field, capping off a 13-play, 95-yard drive with another Murray touchdown to cut the deficit to just three points.
The Falcons would later trade two field goals for a Philadelphia touchdown, but a missed 44-yard field goal attempt by Cody Parkey left the Eagles down two points with just over two minutes to play. Philadelphia forced a three-and-out, but as was the story of the evening, their efforts were too little, too late, as a late interception by Falcons safety Ricardo Allen iced the game for Atlanta.
"It was a tale of two halves," said Kelly. "We played a lot better in the second half, but we did not come to play in the first half. … We played well enough in the second half, but it was too late. We put ourselves in too big a hole."
In terms of total yards, Philadelphia outgained the Falcons 274-159 in the second half, with quarterback Sam Bradford completing 21 of his final 25 pass attempts for 219 yards after starting the game 15-of-27 for 117 yards. In his first regular season start since October 20, 2013, Bradford showed flashes of the poise and sharpness he put on display during his first preseason in Philadelphia. After the game, Kelly said he was pleased with the veteran signal-caller.
"I thought Sam did a decent job," he told reporters. "I think some of the protection issues, when we cleaned those up and gave him time to throw and set his feet, I think that he did a real good job. There were a couple of times when he got hit pretty good, so I think the biggest thing as I come out of this, before looking at the tape, is that we need to shore up our protections in certain situations."
On a crucial fourth-and-1 with 2:32 left in regulation and the Eagles down two points at the Atlanta 26-yard line, Kelly decided to send out Cody Parkey and the kicking team in lieu of trying for the first down to extend the game and potentially set up an easier scoring opportunity. Parkey missed wide right, and the Eagles failed to score on their final drive. After the game, the third-year head coach explained his decision to go for three.
"On third-and-1, we didn't get a lot of movement up front, so we kind of thought that, again, it's a 44-yarder, the ball was in the middle of the field, so I didn't think it was a tough one," Kelly said. "He's hit those before."
Parkey is not alone though, as the whole team will look to put their miscues behind them quickly as they prepare for Week 2. Just six days stand between the Eagles and their home opener against the Dallas Cowboys, and Kelly hopes that his players' momentum in the second half will carry them into a strong week of practice before facing their division rival.
"I thought our approach and what we did in the second, we can build upon that, and we need to look at what went wrong in the first half and correct that," he said. "(We) have a short week and meetings tomorrow. We're back on the field on Wednesday, and then we've got Dallas coming in here (on Sunday). So that's got our attention as we move forward."
The #Eagles began Week 1 of the regular season in Atlanta for Monday Night Football. View the full gallery here...