A year later and year wiser, Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver knew exactly how to close out the game this time around.
Oliver came up with a first-down saving tackle in the final minute to help the Falcons defeat the Eagles 24-20 on Sunday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Last season, in a similar situation against the Bengals, Oliver, then a rookie, didn’t make the right drop and A.J. Green caught the game-winning touchdown.
With the defense trying to do its part against the Eagles, Oliver was ready. He corralled Eagles tight end Zach Ertz a yard short of the first down marker. Strong safety Keanu Neal came over to make sure Ertz was down inches from the line to gain.
“It was fourth-and-8 and they had already tried to come back to that side a couple of plays before that to Ertz,” Oliver said on Monday. “Kind on work that whole tight end, flat area. I knew that they were probably coming that way.”
The victory improved the Falcons to 1-1, avoided a dreaded 0-2 start and are now tied with the Saints and Buccaneers for first place in the NFC South.
With wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (calf) and DeSean Jackson (groin) injured and out of the game, the Eagles had limited weapons.
“Zach Ertz being kind of, out of their receiving corps, the most reliable guy in that situation,” Oliver said. “A guy that Carson Wentz likes to go to. So, I just knew where the sticks were, played at the sticks. He sat it down right in front of me. I reacted, came up and made the tackle.”
Oliver was not surprised that the Eagles didn’t try to pass the ball beyond the first down marker.
“No, that’s pretty much what I expected,” Oliver said. “Usually, they try to sit it down right there at the sticks. I mean, I’m sure, looking back at it in hindsight he would have liked to get a yard farther across the sticks. I know for a general idea that’s where they were going to sit it down.”
The Falcons were playing a zone.
“That was my coverage,” Oliver said. “He just happened to throw it to my guy. It was my play to make.”
No first down. Game over.
Oliver almost didn’t get the chance to be the hero.
On the second play of that game-deciding drive, Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor got behind the Falcons’ secondary, but dropped a potential touchdown pass.
“The deep one,” Oliver said. “Yeah, it was kind of a busted coverage for us as a secondary and we were kind of just running to go get him if he caught it, to get him down to play another down. But yeah, we just kind of got saved on that one.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn was pleased with the play of Oliver as he’s taking over at right cornerback for former starter Robert Alford, who was released in the offseason.
“I hope that you learn from those moments to say how do you go through it,” Quinn said on Oliver’s experience from the Cincinnati game. “He is a really good tackler. I think that’s shown up time and again. We made a big push in the week ... for them, the tackling on third down was going to be a real emphasis because of their penchant to go for it on fourth downs.”
The Falcons stressed certain tackling against the Eagles after giving up 272 yards passing against the Vikings. They wanted to keep the yards after contact to a minimum.
“What does a third-and-5 tackle look like,” Quinn said. “Does it end at third-and-3. That was a clear case of it where it had to stop right where the catch was made. Although he secured the tackle, he needed (Neal) on the last bit of it to make sure that it didn’t advance. He’s done some really secure tackling.”
Neal wasn’t sure that he and Oliver had stopped Ertz initially.
“When I looked over 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.”
Because of Oliver’s tackle, the Falcons’ “tell the truth Monday” was much more pleasant than last week after the 28-12 loss to the Vikings.
“We just got through and watched the film,” Oliver said.
Oliver, who finished with five tackles and two pass breaks ups, was pleased to make the key stop.
The defense was elated to close out the win.
“Yeah, that was something that we were talking about before we went out on the field before that drive and during that drive,” Oliver said. “We knew it was going to be up to us defensively to get the stop to get the win. The offense did their part with Julio’s touchdown. They scored their points that we needed. It just came back on us and we had to win it.”
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