Here are five things we learned from the Falcons’ 18-12 season-opening loss to the Eagles on Thursday before a festive crowd of 69,696 at Lincoln Financial Field.
» Dan Quinn: ‘Our ability to score [in red zone] has to change’
1. Red zone issue is real: The Falcons’ offense continued to struggle in the red zone, the major issue to fix in the offseason.
The Falcons opened the game on fire, but stalled four times on five trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and netted just nine points.
“We are going to go back and look for sure,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We’ve put a good bit of work in there and we still have more to do. By no means does this game determine ... that’s part of our game that we’ve got to get right if we are going to be really good.”
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A final throw to Julio Jones at the buzzer was ruled incomplete for another failed attempt. Jones caught the ball in the end zone, but came down out of bounds. Game over.
Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 21 of 43 passes for 251 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 57.4.
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On the opening possession, the Falcons used a 20-yard run by running back Devonta Freeman, who suffered a knee injury late in the game, and a 33-yard pass play to Jones to zip down to the Eagles 6-yard line.
On first down, Freeman had a 5-yard gain before the offense stalled on three consecutive plays from the 1-yard line. On second down, Freeman didn’t follow fullback Ricky Ortiz, cut back inside and ran into Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. On third down, Ryan missed an open Freeman with an errant throw. And on fourth down, Ortiz didn’t get a seal block on Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugler-Hill and he dropped Freeman for a yard loss.
It was in the same end zone where the Falcons ended on a fourth-and-2 last season in the divisional playoff game.
On their second possession, the Falcons used a 26-yard gain off a nifty screen to Tevin Coleman to move down to the Eagles’ 10-yard line. Three plays and no passes to Jones later, the Falcons settled for a 21-yard field goal.
After getting to the Eagles’ 15, Ryan tossed an interception early in the fourth quarter.
On the fourth trip to the red zone, Coleman powered in on a 9-yard touchdown run to give the Falcons a 12-10 lead. Bryant missed the extra point attempt.
A fifth and final attempt, which got all the way down to the 1-yard line, failed in the final second.
“Our ability to score down there has to change,” Quinn said. “We weren’t able to do that tonight. Give credit to them.”
2. Defense was stout, until the end: The Falcons, who had to play most of the second half with two free safeties after Keanu Neal left with a knee injury, did a good job of tackling.
The defense didn’t get fooled by the Eagles’ run-pass option plays and came up and tackled strongly until late in the game. The Eagles ran a version of their “Philly Special” play in the third quarter during the game’s first touchdown drive.
The run defense did a good job against Eagles running back Jay Ajayi and the speedy Darren Sproles, until Ajayi put the Eagles up for good with an 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles didn’t get over 100 yards until 7:51 was left in the third quarter.
» Photos: Falcons struggle in loss to Eagles
The ball was not their friend. The Falcons wanted to get some turnovers to create more possessions for the offense.
Cornerback Robert Alford had a near interception in the third quarter. Special teamer Kemal Ishmael pounced on a punt that touched Eagle Tre Sullivan to set the Falcons up, but Ryan tossed an interception.
Deion Jones came up with an interception after Damontae Kazee walloped rookie tight end Dallas Goedert in the fourth quarter.
3. Jones’ non-catch: The Falcons were looking to get moving early in the third quarter and Jones had gotten behind Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills with a nice double move.
Jones bobbled the pass after tracking the deep ball and appeared to haul it in, but the referees ruled the pass incomplete.
“What do you mean it looked like (a catch)?” Jones said. “You know what was going on…the call and it’s their job. No shade on the referees or anything to the referees if they miss calls and things like that. You can’t get down on those things or the momentum. You have to keep playing and play the next play.”
Jones broke the team record for most 100-yard receiving games with 40 on a 27-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Jones was tied with Roddy White at 39.
Jones finished with 10 catches for 169 yards and no touchdowns.
4. Penalty fest: It was a sloppily played game.
There were 16 penalties in the first half between the teams. The Falcons had 13 of 20 penalties heading into the fourth quarter.
With 7:28 to play, the Falcons had 14 penalties for 125 yards. The Eagles had 10 for 96.
Tight end Eric Saubert had the 15th penalty, a costly face mask penalty that put the Eagles on their 46-yards line with 4:51 left.
The Falcons finished with 15 penalties for 135 yards. The Eagles had 11 penalties for 101 yards.
5. Neal’s injury: Neal left the game with a knee injury in the second quarter. He returned but left in the third quarter and did not return.
Kazee went in a strong safety. though he normally plays free safety.
Backup strong safety Jordan Richards, who was acquired in a trade with New England, was inactive.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant left the game with a calf/cramps, but returned. During the Eagles’ final touchdown drive, Deante Burton played left cornerback.
Also, defensive end Vic Beasley and Ortiz left the game to be evaluated for a head injury, but both were cleared and returned.