With things looking kind of bleak, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tossed a short screen out to wide receiver Julio Jones on a fourth-and-3.
After picking up a pancake block from left tackle Jake Matthews and a kickout block from Mohamed Sanu, Jones took off on a 54-yard touchdown reception.
In the process, Jones became the franchise’s all-time leader in career receiving yards, passing his mentor Roddy White, as he lifted the Falcons to a 24-20 victory over the Eagles on Sunday night before a raucous crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Falcons kicked away a 17-6 lead and could not stop a 13-play, 73-yard touchdown march. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scored from a yard out with 3:13 to play.
He then tossed a two-point conversion to tight end Zach Ertz to put the Eagles ahead 20-17, for their first lead of the game.
On the ensuing drive and staring an 0-2 start in the face, the Falcons eased up to their 46, but had to go for it on fourth down. With the game on the line, Jones and Ryan connected for some football magic to lift the Falcons to 1-1. The Eagles dropped to 1-1.
“The biggest things for me was to get the first down,” Jones said. “Once the kick-out block came, it was like OK, it’s a foot race.”
Jones turned it on.
“This is what I do,” Jones said. “I play football and we make plays.”
Matthews clobbered the poor Eagles cornerback on the play.
“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.”
The Falcons weren’t in the clear, until Vic Beasley came up with a sack on third down forcing a fourth-and-14 from the Eagles’ 39 with 1:29 left. Wentz connected with Nelson Agholor for a 43-yard gain to move to the Falcons’ 18.
On fourth-and-8 from the Falcons’ 16, Keanu Neal and Isaiah Oliver stopped Ertz short of the first down to seal the victory.
“The biggest thing was to make sure that he wasn’t over (the first down line),” Neal said. “After the tackle, we looked over and saw that he was short.”
Jones finished with five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Jones has 10,868 yards receiving, surpassing White, who had 10,863.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley had eight catches for 105 yards and one touchdown.
Ryan, who threw three interceptions, is 11-1 in home openers.
The Falcons were opportunistic as they scored two touchdowns off of the three turnovers they created to open a 17-6 lead in the third quarter.
The Falcons needed to play much better after an listless performance in the 28-12 loss to the Vikings on Sept. 8.
The run defense shut down the Eagles and cornerback Desmond Trufant came up with two interceptions. The Falcons, after giving up 172 yards rushing to Minnesota, held the Eagles to 49 yards rushing on 21 carries for paltry 2.3 yards per carry average.
“Any win is big, especially after the week we had,” linebacker DeVondre Campbell said. “We just had to come out and play our style of ball. We didn’t feel like we played up to our standard last week. It was a good opponent to come back and get a good game against.”
Trufant, who didn’t have an interception last season, had his last pick 23 games ago against Seattle in a 34-31 win on Nov. 20, 2017.
Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary left the game with a knee jury with 8:10 left in the second quarter. He returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons are already without first-round pick Chris Lindstrom, who was placed on injured reserved after suffered a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot against the Vikings.
Falcons punter Matt Bosher, who normally handles the kickoffs, did not against the Eagles. He has a groin injury.
“Yeah, it should be fine,” Bosher said. “Everything will be good. Just a little bit of treatment. Everything will be good.”
The Eagles played most of the game without wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (calf) and DeSean Jackson (groin).
Turnovers played a role for both teams.
The Eagles made a field goal and a touchdown off two Ryan interceptions. The defense forced a punt after his third interception.
This was Ryan’s 176th career start and just his 10th game with three interceptions. Ryan didn’t have two interceptions in any game last season. The last time he threw three in a game was in a 20-17 win over the Saints on Dec. 7, 2017.
It was Jones to rescue.
“It was a great call at the right time,” Ryan said. “Just want we needed. For an up and down game, I was proud of the way everyone battled and made plays when we needed it.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.