That was a gut kick of a game, wasn’t it? Falcons coach Dan Quinn brought his defensive coaching skills more effectively than anyone could have imagined, and moved Julio Jones everywhere imaginable around the field. Worse yet, the Eagles showed enough power in the second half to get your hopes up, just to kick you in the afeormentioned gut again for a tough loss. Here are seven tragedies from tonight’s game. (I’m sure I forgot some other ones.)
1. Cody Parkey
It’s been there right in front of us all off-season. Parkey missing kicks, sitting out with a groin injury. The same groin injury that hobbled him last December, when he missed two field goals to cost the Eagles their second game against Washington, knocking them out of the playoffs.
Most people didn’t want to hear it about Parkey’s struggles. But even before he muffed an unremarkable 44-yard kick to blow the game, he was only able to get two touchbacks on five kickoffs. Atlanta’s Matt
Bryant Bosher had a touchback on all seven of his.
And then disaster struck. Yes, Atlanta had good pressure on that final field goal attempt. But dealing with pressure is Parkey’s job, injured or not. Chip said after the game that he had a lot of confidence in Cody Parkey. That makes one of us.
2. The Offensive Line
Everyone knew it was a risk when the Eagles cut both starting guards and promoted their backups, Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner. The surprise was that the three returning offensive linemen didn’t look much better (and Barbre had an assist on the Eagles last TD, pushing Mathews over the goal). Actually, Lane Johnson was solid, and the fact that Chip kept calling sweeps to the right indicates that he was relying on him.
But Jason Peters was cleanly beat by rookie Vic Beasly. Later he moved early with the Eagles pinned down at their own five, sending the team back to the two-and-a-half yard line. And Jason Kelce was called for a couple of big holding penalties, including a costly one on the fourth quarter drive to win that fell short.
3. Chip Kelly played small ball(s)
You know Chip Kelly wanted to go for it on fourth and one with just under three minutes left and the game on the line. That’s why he ended up rushing the kick team onto the field at the end of the play clock, which didn’t help the situation. Even if they had made it, the scene was set for a replay of the 2013 playoff loss to the Saints, with a stud veteran QB ready to march up the field with plenty of time to get into range for the winning FG. Especially with Matt Bryant, an excellent long kicker, warming up for the Falcons.
The defense played its part, too, which makes the choice even more tragic. Even if the Eagles had failed to get the first, they would have gotten it back. At Oregon, Kelly explained that he often went for it on fourth because he was confident that his defense could stop the other team if it failed. The defense did its part. Chip didn’t do his.
4. Maxwell didn’t earn his money
The Eagles paid $63 million to sign Byron Maxwell as a free agent, specifically to plug the holes in pass coverage, and he didn’t show many signs of being worth it today. Matt Ryan showed no fear of Maxwell at all, and was rewarded with pass after pass to Julio Jones (nine receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns). Roddy White added four for 84 yards.
On the other hand, Oregon bias paid off as ex-Ducks Kiko Alonso and Walter Thurmond had great interceptions that did a lot to keep the Eagles in the game. (Check out Kiko’s Odell Beckham, Junior-ish one-handed catch. I know you’ve seen it, but you want to see it again.) They did a lot more to improve the pass coverage than Maxwell did. DE Taylor Hart also had a couple of solo tackles in his first NFL action after a redshirt year.
The Eagles did their best to throw the game away with penalties, somehow managing to overcome five of them on one late 95-yard drive that required them to gain 130 yards to reach the end zone. But they didn’t need to increase their burden on this night.
6. Malcolm Jenkins just can’t catch a ball
Twice, he had easy interceptions in his arm. One bounced off his chest. The other off his arms. Last year, the same thing happened. Why is he not at the Jugs machine before and after practice every day? If he caught all those balls, he’d be a Pro Bowl safety easily.
7. The pieces were all there
The final tragedy is that you could see all of the elements that Chip Kelly has assembled– the scheme, the great quarterback [editor’s note: would we call him great?], the gritty north-south running, and the ball-hawking pass defense. The raw materials are there to make this a team that can go deep in the playoffs. They were down 20-3 after a dis-spiriting first half, but even in that miserable stretch of football you could see a lot of open passes where timing was a bit off, Bradford miscommunicated with a receiver, or the WR dropped it.
In the second half, the Eagles dialed up some blitzes and Bradford found his rhythm, throwing underneath to a wide range of targets time and time again. Ten different Eagles caught passes, including two receivers who almost everyone had forgotten –Miles Austin (two receptions on three targets for 22 yards) and Riley Cooper (three of four for 25). Darren Sproles showed that he will be a devastating weapon out of the slot or the backfield this year. And once the passing started to connect, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews displayed their power.
Seeing all of those elements right in front of you, falling barely short of a great comeback? That was the biggest tragedy of all.