Eagles hold off Falcons to begin title defense
PHILADELPHIA—The Philadelphia Eagles came up with another goal-line stand against the Atlanta Falcons and eked out an 18-12 victory in an ugly, flag-filled affair to open the NFL regular season Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Matt Ryan threw five incompletions from the 10-yard line in the final seconds, including a 5-yard fade caught by Julio Jones on the final play, but Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby kept Jones from coming down inbounds. That was after an extra chance for Atlanta after Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks was called for illegal contact on fourth-and-goal from the 10.
The Falcons had driven 70 yards on 12 plays before coming up short, as Jones made three grabs for 60 yards on the series, including an 18-yarder on third-and-17. But the failure on the final play was all too reminiscent of Ryan's incompletion to Jones on fourth down with 1:05 left in the divisional playoffs in January, again helping Philly survive.
Jay Ajayi's second rushing touchdown, an 11-yard rumble, gave the Eagles the lead with 2:25 remaining, after Darren Sproles converted a third-and-8 and Corey Clement had a 21-yard run earlier in the drive.
Ajayi also scored on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter, after the drive was extended by a 15-yard reception by Nick Foles on a variant of the famous "Philly Special" to convert a third-and-5.
"We needed to do something," Foles told NBC of the "Philly Special II" in an on-field interview postgame. "Went over to (head coach]) Doug, we were both thinking the same thing. He called it. It was the right time again. We needed a little boost, a little something, we needed to make a play, so it was just the right time for it."
The Eagles' offense was booed on its way to the tunnel for halftime after gaining just 68 yards on 30 plays. Even after a second-half surge, Foles finished 19 of 34 for just 117 yards and an interception.
Atlanta's offense managed just nine points in five red-zone trips, failing on a fourth-and-1 on the opening possession and coming up empty again on the final drive. The Falcons led 6-3 at the half on a pair of Matt Bryant field goals.
Ryan finished 21 of 43 for 251 yards and an interception, while Jones had 10 grabs for 169 yards, well over half of the Falcons' 299 yards of total offense.
Yellow laundry littered the field all night, as the teams combined for 26 accepted penalties for 236 yards, more than the Eagles gained all game (232). The Falcons had 15 infractions (their most since 1990) for 135 yards (most since 2007).
Falcons safety Keanu Neal left in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return, after first hurting the knee in the second.
The opening kickoff was delayed by 45 minutes due to thunderstorms.
Carson Wentz joined fellow Eagles captains for the opening coin toss. He has yet to be cleared for contact in his recovery from a torn ACL and LCL.