Philadelphia – For three games they’d won without dazzling. This time they dazzled. The Falcons came to a city where they hadn’t won since Reagan was in office and won laughing. They overwhelmed the Philadelphia Eagles, whom the former Falcon Michael Vick once held to possess dynastic capabilities, and in so doing they moved to 7-0. In sum, they had a lovely Sunday afternoon in a place that was expecting nasty weather.
“We went on that field to play a game and dominate on all sides of the ball,” said free safety Thomas DeCoud, and they came pretty darn close.
The final score was 30-17, and that flattered the flattened losers. The Falcons scored on their first six possessions against a defense that had just dumped one coordinator for another. The Falcons’ relatively new offensive coordinator drew up a diverse and dizzying scheme. (Moral of story: Sometimes coordinators matter, and sometimes not.) And the players charged with implementing Dirk Koetter’s design had a banner day.
Matt Ryan returned to the city of his youth and had one of his finest games. (It was, he allowed, the first time his team had won in Philly since Boston College beat Temple in November 2004.) He completed 17 of 20 first-half passes and spread the ball so efficiently that the Eagles’ famous secondary couldn’t cover everybody, which explains, sort of, how slot receiver Drew Davis shook laughably free for the game’s first touchdown.
“Our receivers are pretty good,” said Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, still chafed over having been traded by the Eagles last spring. “No question they could have used me.”
For its part, the Falcons’ D kept Vick so off-balance that the sleek Eagles did next to nothing until the game was gone. Vick didn’t turn the ball over, which was out of character, but he looked antsy and was sacked three times and booed throughout. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Philly folks don’t take well to losing.)
By halftime, a goodly portion of the non-capacity Lincoln Financial Field had departed, and midway through the fourth quarter the place was half-empty. These fans were headed home to batten down hatches before Hurricane Sandy hit, and they left in a rotten mood. In what was supposed to be a key game for both teams, only one bothered to show up.
The Eagles’ first mistake was the coin toss. They won it, and Andy Reid chose to defer to the second half. The Falcons took the kickoff and rolled 80 yards in 8:44 to the Davis touchdown. Soon it would be 14-0, then 24-7 by the half, then 30-10 on the first snap of the fourth quarter, by which time Reid’s exemplary post-bye streak — under this coach, the Eagles had been 13-0 after off-weeks — was well and truly broken.
Said Mike Smith, who became the winningest coach in Falcons annals: “That (was) a fast, fast start. We moved in and out of (offensive) tempo the whole ballgame. We controlled it.”
Said center Todd McClure: “It’s tough to beat a team that doesn’t bring its punter on the field.” (Actually, the Falcons punted twice, both in the game’s final six minutes.)
After three victories achieved via fourth-quarter rallies, it was possible to wonder if the Falcons were unbeaten because of the level of opposition or the brilliance of their play. This game matched a team that had middling numbers (Falcons were 13th in total offense, 22nd in total defense) and a great record against an opponent that looked better on paper (Eagles were seventh in total offense, 12th in total defense) than in the standings (3-3). So much for truth in numbers, huh?
Better than winning, better even than being 7-0, was this: The Falcons looked like the more talented side by far, and it wasn’t so long ago that Philly dubbed itself a Dream Team. The jaw-dropping moment came in the second quarter, when Julio Jones dashed past the All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and outfought the safety Nate Allen for what was a stunning 63-yard touchdown.
“Julio’s a special talent,” said Ryan, who delivered a mighty pretty pass himself. “He ran a great route.”
If you can come here and thrash the Eagles, there’s no reason not to keep winning deep into January. After what transpired here beneath an ominous sky, we now know the Falcons aren’t 7-0 just because the other team keeps messing up. We now know that this has the makings of a special team, perhaps a championship team.
“We’re determined to come out and put our name on everything we do,” DeCoud said. “And we’re starting to hit our stride.”
If that stride gets much more elegant, the NFL might soon be engraving a new name on the Lombardi Trophy. The first three letters: A-T-L.
By Mark Bradley