Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs for the winning touchdown. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Analysis: This time, Falcons take battle to Eagles and win

The Eagles have had the Falcons’ number. That’s past tense.

The last three battles, all in Philadelphia, had been hard-fought with the Eagles prevailing. But late Sunday, with millions in a national television crowd, the Falcons, after blowing an 11-point lead, came up with a dynamic play from Julio Jones and a defensive stop to secure the 24-20 victory on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

After looking horrible at the Vikings, the Falcons showed flashes of greatest and moxie against a stout Eagles team.

Here are five things we learned as the Falcons improved to 1-1.

Psyche of the team: The Falcons had to come out and play a much better game after getting thrown around U.S. Bank Stadium by the Vikings. 

Quarterback Matt Ryan knows this type of win, with the late-game heroics, is good for the long-term psyche of the team. 

“It’s important,” Ryan said. “When you go through these battles with tough teams, it doesn’t all go your way. There are ups and downs and you find a way to kind of battle through and get the job done.”

The Falcons came up short last season in these type of games. As the injuries started to mount, they did not stand a chance. 

“Those are things that good teams do,” Ryan said of the late comeback and defensive stand. “You find ways to get it done when it’s not perfect.”

The victory will help the Falcons move on from the Minnesota debacle. 

“I think that’s really good for the psyche of our team,” Ryan said. “That’s going to help us in critical situations as we move forward. The more you do it, the more you’re successful doing it, the more confident you are going to be in those situations.”

Julio Jones is fast:  We kind of already knew this, but Jones is fast. He turned on the afterburners after picking up blocks from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and left tackle Jake Matthews to help drag the Falcons to victory with a 54-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.  

“I was just looking around,” Jones said. “Mo kicked the guy (out) and I’m looking around (thinking) it’s a foot race now. That was it.” 

Eagles safety Andrew Sendejo didn’t stand a chance. Rodney McLeod made a futile dive. Jones was determined to score.  

“If he had an angle on me, then I would have cut back or did something to get him,” Jones said. “But from where he was at it was just a foot race.” 

On fourth-and-3, the Falcons suspected Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz would call an all-out blitz in what’s called “Cover Zero” because no one is back. 

“They had some success with it earlier in the game,” Jones said. “They put a lot of pressure on Matt, but it only takes one or two times to get those guys out of zero. In critical situations like that, we know they are going to send pressure, especially on fourth-and-3.”

Jones praised his blockers.

“He did a tremendous job on that play,” Jones said of Matthews. “Everybody is an extension of one another. Just going out there and doing your job.”

Run defense was stout: After giving up 172 yards rushing to Minnesota, the Falcons shut down the Eagles’ rushing attack. The Falcons held the Eagles to 49 yards rushing on 21 carries for an 2.3 yards average per carry. 

Safety Keanu Neal led the Falcons with nine tackles and linebacker DeVondre Campbell was second with eight tackles. 

“That’s what we are capable of,” Campbell said. “Last week wasn’t an indication of that. It’s ball. Sometimes that happens. It was just a good situation for us to come back and bounce back.”

The Eagles leading rusher was Miles Sanders, who had 10 carries for 28 yards. 

“It’s the NFL,” Campbell said. “You can’t let one game determine who you are as a team.”  

The block by Matthews: The Falcons ran the screen play to Jones earlier in the game, but Matthews missed his block.

With the game in the balance, Matthews crushed the poor Eagles defender. 

 “It worked out really well,” Matthews said. “We were just tying to get Julio room to run. That guy has proved time and again that if he’s out in space, he’s going to score. I was glad to help him out.”

Matthews knew he’d have a key role on the play. 

“The biggest thing is seeing the defense,” Matthews said. “Seeing what’s out there and seeing who you got. Screens are usually numbered. You have a number count. It’s taking a good release angle and practicing like we do every day during the week like we do. We did it pretty well there. I’m pretty glad that it worked out.”

When Matthews hits the defender is key to the play. He has to strike after the ball has been caught. The timing on the play was near flawless.

“That’s a big nuance to screens,” Matthews said. “The timing has to be perfect. A lot of times they are hard to work. The coaches do a really good job during the week. We have screen periods. Man, I’m just thankful that it worked out against this really good defense.”

He was on the ground and didn’t see Jones take off. 

“I popped up,” Jones said. “I saw that he was gone. I was pretty sure that he was gone and I lost it.”

NFC South race: With the win, the Falcons, Saints and Bucs are tied for first place in the division at 1-1.

However, the Saints could be without quarterback Drew Brees and the Panthers look a hot mess at 0-2.

“It’s one game at a time,” Neal said. “Last game and now this game, we’ll just focused on this one. Now, we’ll move on to the next one.”

Ryan gave offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the credit for the game-winning touchdown. 

“It was a great play call by Dirk,” Ryan said. “We came out. We had a different concept called, but knew if we got a certain look that we were going to get all out pressure, we were going to check to (the screen). ... It was a great call at the right time.”

The Falcons knew they didn’t want go to 0-2. The odds of teams not making the playoffs after starting 0-2 is at 87 percent since 1990. Last season, Houston and Seattle made the playoffs after starting 0-2.  

Now, the Falcons can regroup. Enjoy the fresh air in Flowery Branch and get ready for a road trip to Indianapolis. 

“Just what we needed,” Ryan said. “For an up-and-down game, I was proud of the way everyone battled and made plays when we needed it.”

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