Philadelphia – There haven’t been many times under this administration when the Falcons have been outfought and out-thought, but this was one. The coaching? Lousy. The playing? Awful across the board.
On a day when the national media stood poised to crown this the NFC’s best team, the Falcons stunk out the joint. They trailed after 171 seconds. They trailed by 14 points after eight minutes, 10 seconds. They trailed by double figures the rest of the way. They didn’t look like the finest team in their conference. They barely ran second on Lincoln Financial Field.
“It was a good test for us,” said Tony Gonzalez, the tight end who scored the two touchdowns that made this score almost respectable. “Obviously we didn’t pass it.”
Nope. Flunked all ends up. If they came Ready To Play, it wasn’t apparent. They went three-and-out on their first possession, hoisted a short punt and allowed the Eagles to cover 50 yards in two plays. Asked if his team was primed, coach Mike Smith said: “The way we performed, I would say no. Before the ballgame … I thought we’d had a good week of preparation.”
Which only goes to show: Practice doesn’t count. Said Thomas DeCoud, the safety: “When it comes down to it on game days, you’ve got to execute. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and do what we were doing well again.”
If this two-touchdown loss were a function of a top-flight opponent playing at peak capacity, you could write this off as one of those given Sundays. But the Eagles entered 3-2 and were working behind a backup quarterback. (Although it’s hard to tell just who Philadelphia’s quarterback is. Michael Vick, designated the starter last month, was relegated to emergency QB status due to injury and didn’t even appear on the bench.)
Kevin Kolb started and made like Joe Montana. Matt Ryan, the Philly product come home as the visiting quarterback, made like Steve DeBerg. But it wasn’t the quarterbacking that proved such a revelation: It was the offensive approaches of the teams.
The Eagles were quick and clever. Their first touchdown came on a reverse to DeSean Jackson. Their final touchdown came on a deep pass to Jeremy Maclin off a fake reverse. (A “ghost play,” in football argot.) Said DeCoud, who bit on the latter: “[The earlier play] may have had a hand in it. I heard someone call ‘reverse,’ and I went to turn my head. I have to be a little more disciplined with my eyes.”
Said Smith: “We were in a coverage that should have not had the ball thrown over our head and the ball was thrown over our head.”
The Eagles gained 474 yards to the Falcons’ 293. Said Ryan, who passed 42 times for just 250 yards: “We game-planned well. We just didn’t execute.”
One coaching staff maximized resources. The other did not. The Falcons were made to look ponderous and dated by comparison. Michael Turner never got going, which meant Ryan never got going, which meant the 31-17 final actually flattered the losers. (The Eagles’ David Akers missed three field goals.)
Said Mike Peterson, the linebacker and champion mixer of metaphors: “We were definitely ready, definitely prepared. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way early and starts rolling downhill, and we couldn’t do anything to stop the bleeding.”
If you’re looking for the game in four ugly words, there it was: We couldn’t do anything. Only a team this gifted shouldn’t be strapped for a response. The Falcons arrived being regarded as the class of the NFC, left having been outclassed.
“We weren’t concerned with being the best team in the NFL,” Turner said. “We were just trying to win the football game.”
Flunked on both counts. And now we’re left to wonder if the 4-2 Falcons, who’ve won twice and lost once on a game’s final kick, are as good as their record. We’re left to wonder why Andy Reid schemed circles around Smith and Brian VanGorder. We’re left to wonder why Mike Mularkey’s offense never looks so sleek. We’re left to wonder what the Eagles might have done with their No. 1 quarterback.