It wasn’t pretty, but it counts all the same. The Philadelphia Eagles began their title defense with an 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, in a game that was eerily reminiscent of the 15-10 win they had over the Falcons during last year’s playoff run — right down to the Falcons having one last chance to win at the end but ultimately coming up short on a last-ditch pass to Julio Jones.
Philadelphia’s offense got off to a slow start in this one, but the defense — particularly the crew up front that did an excellent job of containing Atlanta’s running game and putting pressure on Matt Ryan — kept them in the game and did just enough so that two second-half touchdown runs from Jay Ajayi ended up being the difference.
It was a sloppy game all night long, with a total of 26 penalties being called against the two sides. Doug Pederson’s team was not immune to those errors, getting called for a variety of infractions including multiple offsides calls that resulted in the Falcons getting second and even third chances to score.
But the defense tightened things up when it matter, yielding only a touchdown and a field goal on five red zone possessions, while also sacking Ryan four times, intercepting him once, and holding every Falcons pass-catcher save for Julio Jones under 30 receiving yards apiece.
Chris Long was in the backfield all night. Michael Bennett made a few nice plays. Haloti Ngata sliced through the offensive front. Jordan Hicks was seemingly everywhere. Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins, and the rest of the secondary lost track of Jones at times — which seems impossible but still happened — but continually made plays to get off the field on third down. The Falcons, the league’s No. 1 team at converting third downs last season, went just 4 of 15 on third down in the opener.
Rookie punter Cameron Johnston chipped in with booming kicks to keep the Eagles out of terrible field position while the offense struggled, and when it came time to capitalize on Atlanta’s mistakes, Nick Foles made a few key throws, Falcons defenders missed a few key tackles, and Ajayi snuck into the end zone twice.
In the end, the Eagles began the 2018 season in just the same way they began their playoff run to Super Bowl LII just about eight months ago: with a narrow win over a Falcons team that seemed like it had a ton of chances to come away with a victory but instead repeatedly shot itself in the foot and couldn’t convert from in close when it mattered.
Here are a few more things to know about Philly’s season-opening victory.
Philly Special Redux
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the Philly Special. It basically won the Eagles the Super Bowl last year. But even that play was not the first time in that game that a skill-position player threw a pass to the quarterback. Earlier in the game, the Patriots ran a similar play where Danny Amendola attempted a pass to Tom Brady.
Doug Pederson obviously liked what he saw, because in his team’s very next game, he basically ripped the page right out of New England’s playbook, unveiling this look in the third quarter.