Eagles scrape by Falcons in sloppy, dramatic NFL season opener

PHILADELPHIA — Eagles fans have become accustomed to waiting. Fifty-two years for a Super Bowl. On Thursday night, 45 extra minutes due to weather. And then three hours for a sloppy NFL season opener to come to life. But a few minutes past midnight, their patience paid off.

They had grumbled and cussed and even booed sporadically as the Eagles and Atlanta Falcons labored through their prime-time curtain-raiser. But Corey Clement busted a big run, Jay Ajayi punctured the goal line with two-and-a-half minutes to play, and the defending champs escaped with an 18-12 win.

In the end, it was deja vu. Just as they had eight months ago in an NFC divisional playoff game, Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense mounted a late drive. Just as January’s matchup between the two teams had come down to a fourth-and-goal pass to Julio Jones, this one did.

The Philadelphia Eagles held Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons on their final drive in Thursday’s NFL opener. (Getty)
The Philadelphia Eagles held Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons on their final drive in Thursday’s NFL opener. (Getty)

But just as Ryan’s pass had eight months ago, this one fell incomplete. And the Eagles held on.

The game initially swung on ‘Philly Philly’

First came the Super Bowl. Then the celebration. Thursday was the victorious culmination. But to cap Philly’s special night with the joy and triumph it deserved, Eagles coach Doug Pederson had to reach back to February.

With the Eagles’ offense sputtering, behind 6-3, Pederson dialed up a variation on the most famous offensive play in franchise history. It ended with a Nick Foles reception and a crucial third-down conversion. The drive ended with the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game.

It wasn’t an exact replica. There was no faux audible, no direct snap, no Trey Burton. In fact, it was a replica of a play that nearly undid the Eagles in February. “It was the same play the Patriots used,” Eagles offensive lineman Lane Johnson said after the game. “The one that Tom [Brady] dropped.”

This one wasn’t called “Philly Special.” It was “Philly Philly.”

Nonetheless, it turned the tide, and brought a slopfest of a game to life.

The first half set football back decades

The NFL season, in all honesty, began with a dud – at least for a half. The two teams combined for 16 first-half penalties and zero touchdowns. The Eagles looked like a late-Chip-Kelly-era mess. The Falcons, for the most part, bossed the game, but couldn’t capitalize on red-zone opportunities. On their first possession, Devonta Freeman was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1. On their second, they settled for a field goal.

Before the game, news broke that Carson Wentz could potentially be out until October, and Foles did nothing to ease concern. He didn’t get much help, either. On one possession, he was swallowed up for a sack on first down. On third, he dropped a perfectly good snap and went down for another loss.

In the second half, with the Eagles having picked off Ryan inside the 5-yard line, Foles gave the Falcons the ball right back, and Tevin Coleman gave the visitors a 12-10 lead. (Matt Bryant missed the extra point.)

The Eagles’ defense, though, held, just like it had in that divisional playoff game eight months ago. And the offense did just enough in the end.

Eagles win again as underdogs

With Foles under center, the Eagles were underdogs for the fifth consecutive game, dating back to last December. They embraced the role en route to their first Super Bowl title in the winter. And to open the new campaign, they did it again.

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