Falcons pick up pieces after shattering loss

FLOWERY BRANCH — After a penalty-laced performance that led to a 32-6 thumping by the Eagles, the Falcons know they must make major improvements and in a hurry.

The Falcons (0-1) are set to face the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Vegas line opened with the Falcons as 10.5 point underdog and went up to 13.5 shortly thereafter.

“We just have to clean up the penalties,” running back Mike Davis said Monday. “The self-inflicted wounds, we just have to eliminate those and we should be good to go.”

The Falcons had 12 penalties for 99 yards, including prized rookie Kyle Pitts lining up in an illegal formation on the 2-yard line.

“Obviously, not pleased with some of the stuff, especially the pre-snap things,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We had some penalties of aggression that we need to clean up. Pre-snap and alignment ones obviously disappointed in, we have to get that cleaned up, that’s really what effects the game.”

The Falcons went backward after Pitts’ penalty, couldn’t overcome the penalty and had to settle for a field goal.

“I have confidence that these things can be fixed,” Davis said. “It’s simple things as far as lining up in the wrong formations. Offensive pass interference, holdings and false starts. Those things are easily correctable. It’s something that we have to fix.”

Rookie coach Arthur Smith tried to take the blame for the poor showing. However, the players know they are ones out on the field.

“Everybody made some mistakes out there, and I feel like there was a play out there I could have made if I just ran through to the quarterback and sacked him,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “It would have been fourth down, right before that two-minute drive before the half.

The Falcons were coming a 4-12 season and the game appeared to be a even matchup with the Eagles, who were coming off a 4-11-1 season.

Both teams made major changes over the offseason.

The Falcons traded away wide receiver Julio Jones, revamped their offensive backfield, switched to the 3-4 defense and retooled three of the five starters in the secondary (counting the nickel back as a starter).

The Eagles traded quarterback Carson Wentz and handed the ball over to Jalen Hurts. They also drafted Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall pick.

The Falcons addressed their offensive line by drafting rookies in the third and fourth round. When veteran Josh Andrews went down and Matt Gono was injured, the Falcons went with rookie Jalen Mayfield, the third round pick.

Falcons rookie offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield takes accountability for poor play in season opener against Eagles.

When Mayfield had to leave the game for a few plays, rookie Drew Dalman, the fourth-round pick, came in.

“(Give) credit to (Eagles coach) Nick (Sirianni) and their staff and really their players,” Smith said.

The Falcons had a few chances to make some big plays and turn the game around.

Jarrett chased Hurts out of the pocket on a fourth-and-4. Isaiah Oliver broke free on a blitz, but ran past the quarterback.

“You got to make the plays,” Jarrett said. “And there’s no excuse. ... We can’t keep being like ‘almost had it, almost, almost’ because it’s not getting the job done, so we have to make those plays when they’re there.”

The lone bright spot for the Falcons was the rushing attack. Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson powered the first two possessions that stalled and ended up with field goals. Davis rushed 15 times for 49 yards and Patterson seven for 54 yards. The Falcons rushed 26 times for 124 yards.

The Falcons rushed for more than 100 yards in only six games in 2020.

The Falcons revamped the entire backfield to make way for Davis and Patterson. Newly signed running back Wayne Gallman was inactive and Caleb Huntley and Qadree Ollison are on the practice squad.

“We did good in first and second quarter as far as running the ball, and then after that I don’t know,” Davis said. “I can’t tell you what happened.”

In order to be competitive, the Falcons know they must eliminate the penalties.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett comments on the team's performance in 32-6 loss to Philadelphia in season openerr.

“We believe in the guys we have and believe in the leadership we have,” Jarrett said. “And there’s a lot of football out there and you know, this year we get an extra game, so we chop this one up and have 16 more to go. We’ve got a lot of good football to play and a lot ahead of us.”

The Falcons will try to move on from the poor showing against the Eagles.

“We have a long season,” Davis said. “It’s just the first game. We know what we need to do. Make sure that guys’ heads are up. Make sure there is no pouting, no guys being sad around here. It was the first game.”

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