Arthur Smith’s first postgame press conference featured the head coach in the role of penitent. It can never be a good thing when the interview room doubles as a confessional. And it’s even worse when a roomful of sports media — a group very stingy with its absolution — sits as your confessor.

But that was the scene Sunday following the Falcons 32-6 loss to Philadelphia, this team’s worst opening-game loss since a 38-point blowout way back in 1987 at the start of Marion Campbell’s second reign.

“I didn’t do a good job getting us ready to go,” Smith began. “I feel awful for our fans, everybody who showed up today. We’ll do a better job. This game won’t define us. It’s a long season. But I certainly didn’t do a good job getting us ready to go today.”

Smith’s first game as a head coach in this league couldn’t have gone any worse, short of his headphones catching fire during the game. By comparison, the launch of New Coke was a smashing success. There was more promise in the air when the first Gremlin rolled off the assembly line.

There is plenty of blame to go around. In fact, it could be argued that Sunday was more a statement on the overall sorry condition of a cap-strapped franchise in transition than on the conscientious coach brought in to try to make something of it.

Smith’s predecessor, Dan Quinn, who by the way won his first game with the Falcons, broke his week into many cute units. He had Tell the Truth Monday. Competition Wednesday. Third Down Thursday. Finishing Friday.

Welcome to Smith’s Reality Sunday. It was a day that slapped him and anyone else with strong Falcons ties in the face with all the inadequacies of this team, all those that were hidden behind the false hope of a preseason in which many of the regulars didn’t play. Their witness protection ran out Sunday.

Much of the ugliness lived with the offense, that side of the ball that Smith specializes in and was brought in to revitalize. (And a minor point here: While Smith is calling the plays, he also has to pay attention to such details as throwing the red challenge flag. The Eagles got away unchallenged with a reception that was really a trap — and some day that kind of thing might even matter).

The two best plays run by this offense may have been its first two of the season — a 16-yard pass to Calvin Ridley over the middle and a 12-yard rush by new feature back Mike Davis. What a cruel tease that was, like the trailer for any Police Academy movie. For after that, nothing to see here, just move along.

Caption
Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson picks up yardage against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson picks up yardage against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson picks up yardage against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

The Falcons’ first two possessions ventured deeply into the Red Zone — first-and-goal from the 2 and first-and-goal on the 6. Back-to-back penalties for an illegal formation and a false start doomed one. General inability killed the other. The Falcons wouldn’t cross midfield the rest of the day.

If Smith slept on nightmares Sunday night, they would come in the form of foolish penalties. “I’m frustrated,” he said. “I got to evaluate what I’m doing whether it’s coaching or messaging about let’s get lined up and when you’re on the 2-yardline, not get an illegal formation (penalty). That’s the stuff that really concerns me.”

The Eagles young and nimble quarterback — Jalen Hurts — outplayed the Falcons elder quarterback — Matt Ryan. Hurts threw for 100 more yards (264 to 164) and three more touchdowns (3 to 0) than Ryan. It was Hurts’ ability to scramble and fit a pass into a tight window that resulted in 9-yard touchdown pass at the close of the first half that was a real killer.

Behind a leaky offensive line, the Falcons showed no ability to challenge Philadelphia with a legitimately vertical pass. Ryan averaged a skimpy 3.6-yards per pass. And when he had no choice but to look long, that’s when the Eagles defensive line collected its three fourth-quarter sacks.

“We were kind of choppy in the passing game,” Ryan said. And the Twinkie is kind of choppy in the nutritional game.

Caption
Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts makes a reception against a double team by Philadelphia Eagles defenders during the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts makes a reception against a double team by Philadelphia Eagles defenders during the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts makes a reception against a double team by Philadelphia Eagles defenders during the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

The Eagles first-round draft pick of a pass catcher — DeVonta Smith — outshined the Falcons own version of that — Kyle Pitts. Pitts’ four catches for 31 yards were not factors. Meanwhile, it took Smith only a few minutes to revisit the same corner of the same end zone where he ran in his famous 2nd-and-26 scoring reception that vaulted Alabama over Georgia in the 2017-18 national championship game. Hey, it’s a good memory for him. Smith finished with 6 catches for 71 yards. And FYI: Dec. 12 would be a good day to lay the plaque and dedicate that area of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as The DeVonta Smith End zone. The Eagles’ bye week falls on that Sunday.

Ryan will tell you that it wasn’t necessary for Smith to take the fall for this one. “That’s part of being a head coach taking responsibility for those things and I appreciate Arthur saying that,” he said. “From the standpoint of players, we’ve got to do our part, too, put in the work and make sure we’ve got ourselves ready to go.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Caption
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan comments on the loss to Philadelphia in season opener and what's next for team.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

And the leader on the defense, Grady Jarrett, who it should be said showed up large Sunday, was there afterward to remind all that 16 games remain. He meant it as a promise, not a threat. “There’s still a lot of optimism,” he said. “We still feel good about this team, we believe in the guys we have, we believe in the leadership we have. There’s a lot of football out there. This year we get an extra game. We chalk this one up, got 16 more to go and we got a lot of good football to play, there’s a lot ahead of us.”

For his new head coach, the best that can be said is that he only had this one chance to make a first impression.

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