The Philadelphia Eagles outlasted the Atlanta Falcons in yet another defensive battle between two of the league’s best teams.
In a scene that resembled last January’s playoff battle, an incomplete pass intended for Julio Jones in the end zone secured the victory for the Eagles in the 2018 season opener.
It wasn’t a perfect game. The offense struggled in the first half against a tough Atlanta defense, and the Eagles racked up plenty of penalties throughout the game. But, as Zach Ertz noted afterward, Philly continued to show the resolve that helped them win the Lombardi Trophy last season.
“It’s a tone-setter,” Zach said. “It’s only one game, but it was a big one for us. We showed the toughness we always show. Nothing about tonight really surprised me. I know what kind of team this is and how we respond to adversity.”
The two defenses displayed their talents all night long, but the offenses began to find their rhythm in the second half.
Doug Pederson sparked an Eagles touchdown drive with a familiar play, one that resembled the “Philly Special” from Super Bowl LII. This time the decision was made at the 41-yard line, facing a third-and-five, and Nelson Agholor made the throw in the place of Trey Burton.
“Honestly, we were both thinking the same thing at the same time,” Nick Foles told reporters after the game. “I went over to talk to him and say, ‘This may be a good time’ and he pointed at the sheet and I was like, ‘That’s what I was coming over here for.’ Yeah, it worked again.”
The call certainly worked again, picking up 15 yards and moving the Eagles down to the 26-yard line. The offense had been tested all night, but Philadelphia’s favorite trick play turned things around.
Three plays later, Zach Ertz made his best play of the night, taking a short pass over the middle for 18 yards on a third-and-eight to keep the chains moving, bringing the Eagles to the six-yard line, setting up Jay Ajayi’s one-yard touchdown run, which gave the defending champions their first lead of the night. Ertz finished the game with five receptions for a team-high 48 yards in the victory.
After a Tevin Coleman touchdown scamper put the Falcons back in front 12-10, the Eagles needed a response. And like much of last year, a balanced attack led the Eagles to victory.
Nelson Agholor, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement and Ajayi all made plays on the game-winning drive, with Ajayi finding the endzone for the touchdown and two-point conversion. On the 11-yard touchdown run, Ajayi was freed up by blocks from Ertz and left tackle Jason Peters on the edge, which gave Ajayi a crease to explode through for the score.
Then the defense had to make one last stand against Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, who connected 10 times for 169 yards in Thursday’s game.
But, the Eagles never let them connect in the endzone. Jim Schwartz called for double coverage on Jones near the goal line, and the Eagles defenders accepted the challenge. On the final play of the game, Jones caught the pass intended for him, but he was forced out of bounds by Ronald Darby before landing with two feet in bounds.
“Now we have a chance to take a long weekend and enjoy it and then get ready for the next game,” Ertz said. “It’s a great feeling. It was an incredible atmosphere. Our fans brought it. Without them, we don’t win this game.”
There’s still a long way to go this season, and this is just one game. But, the Eagles showed many of the same qualities that helped them win a Super Bowl a season ago, and more importantly, they started the new season off with a win.