It would have been a lot of fun to watch the Eagles put up 38 points and just blow the doors off the Falcons. That didn't happen. Instead, the Eagles won a tough game that came down to the very last play. While not as fun for everyone watching, I think a tight game like that benefits the team more in the long run.
The Eagles have spent the past seven months being told how great they are. They've seen highlights of the Super Bowl and the dominant victory in the NFC title game. A dominant performance on Thursday night would likely have fed the team's ego and had them feeling even better about themselves. That might not have been the tone you want for what looks to be a challenging season.
When you're at the top and everyone is gunning for you, you need an edge. The win over the Falcons required the Eagles to play 60 full minutes and battle the whole way. The team isn't about to relax and read their press clippings after a game like that.
The Falcons were tough, but the Eagles also hurt themselves with a lot of mistakes. There were penalties, turnovers, missed tackles, and dropped passes, among other things.
It seemed like the whole team contributed to the mess. Rookie Tre Sullivan, playing in his first NFL game, had a punt go off his foot. The Falcons recovered the ball. Zach Ertz, the best tight end in the NFC, dropped multiple passes. This wasn't one player or one side of the ball.
Opening games tend to be sloppy. I think playing on a Thursday night made that even worse. Doug Pederson won't be interested in why things happened. He and the coaching staff will focus on fixing the mistakes. The Eagles aren't going to win many games when they play like that.
I do think it says a lot about the team that they could fight their way through the situation. A lot of people think the Falcons have a legit shot at the Super Bowl. That's a really good team. They also had revenge on their mind, with the Eagles beating them two years in a row, including last year in the playoffs. Atlanta was desperate to win that game.
The Eagles were missing Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, and Nigel Bradham. That's a lot of firepower. It would have been easy to panic when the team got off to a slow start. The Eagles just kept grinding away. The offense was better in the second half and the defense came up with some huge stops.
I think the key to the game was the play of the defensive line. Jim Schwartz rotated eight players up front and they gave Atlanta fits all night long. Falcons running backs only ran for 55 yards. Matt Ryan completed less than 50 percent of his throws. The Falcons were 1 for 5 in the red zone.
Fletcher Cox led the way. The stat sheet shows two tackles and a sack, but that doesn't come close to explaining how dominant he was. Cox collapsed the pocket over and over. He stuffed a run at the goal line on a drive where the Falcons didn't score. Cox blew up a screen pass with a combination of supreme awareness and agility.
Brandon Graham and Chris Long weren't far behind. Graham played inside and outside. He played on the left and the right. No matter where he lined up, Graham was disruptive. He didn't do much this summer because of an injury, but Graham was ready for the regular season. Long had 1.5 sacks and seemed to hit Ryan over and over. He has been tremendous for the Eagles.
The Eagles sacked Ryan four times. They pressured him on a regular basis. On the final drive, when every play was critical, Ryan had to throw the ball away multiple times. On fourth-and-goal, Ryan actually threw the ball out of the back of the end zone. A penalty gave him one more chance. Pressure on the final play caused him to throw the ball out of bounds by the sideline. Pressure made a difference.
The secondary made some big plays in the game. Ronald Darby broke up a couple of third-down throws to Julio Jones. Darby gave up some catches, but no explosive plays and most importantly, no touchdowns. The secondary covered very well on the final few snaps. Ryan simply had nowhere to go with the ball.
It was great to see Jordan Hicks back in action. This was his first real game since the middle of 2017. Hicks was outstanding, flying around the field and making plays. He had a spectacular sack of Ryan. Hicks ran over Devonta Freeman and dove on Ryan, just engulfing him. Hicks led the team in tackles and made his presence felt.
The young linebackers, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nathan Gerry, had some good moments. Grugier-Hill made a huge play to shut down a goal-line run on fourth down. He fought through two blockers to get the running back down for a loss. Tremendous effort.
Take a look at all the photos from the Philadelphia Eagles' home opener against the Atlanta Falcons to kick off the 2018 season.
Doug Pederson mentioned the importance of special teams after the game. New punter Cameron Johnston was a big part of that. He averaged 52 yards per punt, including one that went for 65 yards. On a night when the offense struggled, it was critical for the kicking game to keep Atlanta pinned deep. Dave Fipp's unit did a terrific job of that, really helping out the defense.
So let's talk about the offense. Nick Foles struggled this summer and some of that carried over into the season opener. He looked rusty. His timing was off. He didn't always make good reads or accurate throws. It was tough sledding, especially early.
The great thing about Foles is that he remains calm. He just kept playing. Foles was better in the second half and made some big plays when it mattered. There was a key third down when he moved up in the pocket and hit Ertz over the middle to set up first-and-goal. Huge play.
Of course, nothing was bigger than Philly Philly.
You have to love Pederson's instincts. The Eagles saw the trick play the Patriots used against them in the Super Bowl and stole the idea, calling it Philly Philly. Pederson called that in the third quarter at a moment when his team needed a spark and so did the fans.
The second that Nelson Agholor threw the ball and everyone saw Foles running downfield was magical. There was a sense of "No way!!!" Well, yes way. Pederson called it and the players executed. Foles caught the ball and ran out of bounds for a gain of 15. That play came on third down and kept a scoring drive alive. The Eagles took their first lead of the game a few plays later.
While the offense had issues, it made plays when it mattered. They scored touchdowns on 2 of 3 red zone possessions. The offensive line came alive in the second half and got the run game going. Jay Ajayi looked like a pinball, bouncing off tacklers and working his way through traffic. He ran for both scores and also a two-point conversion.
It was great to see Darren Sproles back on the field. He converted some key third downs. Jason Peters returned to action and was dominant at left tackle. He really is something special.
The win over the Falcons wasn't the spectacular showcase game that some hoped for, but it just might be what the doctor ordered. The Eagles made a lot of mistakes as a team, but they also made plays as a team and found a way to win.
Teams will be coming after the Eagles every week, desperate to knock off the reigning champs. The way to win is to be tough and focused and to battle for 60 minutes. That's just what the Eagles did in the win over Atlanta.