From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Asante Samuel stared directly at his former team's sideline and started trash-talking right after the coin toss. By the fourth quarter, Samuel was dancing on the field between plays.Matt Ryan made it easy for his loquacious teammate to gloat.Ryan threw touchdown passes on Atlanta's first three possessions against the Eagles and new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and the Falcons remained the NFL's only unbeaten team with a convincing 30-17 win over Philadelphia on Sunday."We're 7-0 over here baby," Samuel said. "If I was over there now, they have to go to work."The Falcons are 7-0 for the first time in the franchise's 47-year history while the Eagles (3-4) lost after a bye for the first time in 14 games under coach Andy Reid since 1999."That was an embarrassing performance," Reid said. "I'm stating the obvious. We need to get better. I need to do a better job. This is fixable. We have the talent."Ryan finished 22 of 29 for 262 yards and three TDs for his first win against his hometown team in three tries.Michael Vick didn't turn the ball over for once, but he played so-so and failed to beat his former team in his second start against the Falcons since returning to the NFL in 2009."Whatever decision coach makes, I support it," Vick said when asked about possibly being benched for rookie Nick Foles. "I know I'm giving it everything I have when I'm out there."Reid said he's going to evaluate whether he makes a quarterback change. The defense was the problem against Atlanta, however.The Falcons scored on their first six possessions before punting for the first time with 5:35 left."When you do that, it's going to be a good day," Ryan said.This was a validation win for Atlanta. The Falcons entered with no victories over a team with a winning record and their opponents were a combined 13-24 going into this weekend. Perhaps that's why they were a surprising 3-point underdog despite Philadelphia's recent struggles."We like to have a lot of fun," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We have a very mature group. We have a bunch of guys who are mentors. We're good at focusing on the task at hand. We're on point when we kick off and guys have done a good job focusing all season."Reid's Eagles have lost three in a row since starting 3-1. Reid fired Juan Castillo and replaced him with Bowles two days after Philadelphia blew its second straight fourth-quarter lead in an overtime loss to Detroit.Clearly, it didn't work.Castillo's defense allowed 18.5 points per game, excluding two TD returns against the offense. Bowles' D allowed 21 points in the first 24 minutes and couldn't make a stop until the fourth quarter."I did what I did and what I thought was right at the time," Reid said about the switch. "We need to get better there."A sellout crowd anticipating a pending storm expected to hit the East Coast soon started filtering out in the third quarter. Those who stuck around booed the Eagles off the field, though one guy chanted "E-A-G-L-E-S" in the final minute.The anti-Reid fans may be seeing him in his final months with the team. Owner Jeffrey Lurie already stated before the season that another 8-8 finish would be "unacceptable."The Falcons methodically drove 80 yards on 16 plays on the opening possession, converting five third downs. A holding call on defensive end Jason Babin kept the drive going after Ryan threw an incomplete pass on third-and-10. Ryan then threw a 15-yard TD pass to Drew Davis for a 7-0 lead.Ryan tossed a 3-yard TD pass to Jason Snelling to make it 14-0. Penalties on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Mychal Kendricks on separate third downs kept Atlanta's drive going.After going three-and-out on the first series, the Eagles put it together on the next drive by mixing in seven runs among their 13 plays. LeSean McCoy scored from the 2 to cut it to 14-7.But the Falcons answered quickly. Ryan connected with Julio Jones over Nnamdi Asomugha for the 63-yard score to put Atlanta up 21-7.Atlanta converted their first nine third-down tries, including three by penalty. The Eagles finally held in the final minute of the second quarter and Matt Bryant's 43-yard field goal gave the Falcons a 24-7 halftime lead. Bryant kicked field goals of 29 and 30 on the next two drives.The Eagles made it 30-17 on Vick's 7-yard TD pass to McCoy in the fourth quarter.Samuel had 25 interceptions and went to three Pro Bowls in four seasons in Philadelphia before the acquisitions of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie forced him out. He was traded to the Falcons for a seventh-round pick in April and enjoyed his return to Lincoln Financial Field."I love the fans," he said. "They can boo me. They can cheer for me. Doesn't do anything but add fuel to the fire."NOTES:The Falcons won in Philadelphia for the first time since Oct. 30, 1988. They were 0-6 with two playoff losses. ... Neither team had a turnover. ... The Eagles got their first sack in four games since Week 3. ... Eagles rookie Dennis Kelly took his first snap in the NFL, starting for the injured Danny Watkins (ankle) at RG. ... Kendricks was benched for the first series for disciplinary reasons. Casey Matthews took his place at strongside LB. ... Falcons coach Mike Smith moved past Dan Reeves into first place on the club's all-time list with 50 wins.
BOSTON – It was the final piece of closure for former Bruins coach Claude Julien when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time as the bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. Julien stood on the visiting bench, watched a first period video tribute of appreciation for his 10 years guiding the Bruins and then received the warm, thankful ovation from the B’s fans that still very much appreciate his efforts that resulted in a 2011 Stanley Cup title.
Unfortunately for him and the Canadiens he also presided over a lifeless, limp effort from his Montreal club in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins where his team simply couldn’t derive any emotion or juice from his return to Boston. Julien said in both French and English that that his Habs simply “laid an egg” on the road, and that was disappointing for him given that Montreal already has its back against the wall for a possible playoff spot.
Instead Julien’s biggest bright spot in the game turned out to be the video tribute from the Bruins midway through the first period, for which he was greatly appreciative.
“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it’s a little emotional, and at the same time [you’re] trying to keep your emotions intact there so you can coach a game and stuff like that. But, you know, I appreciate what they did for me,” said Julien following his second loss to the Bruins in five days. “As I said, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here. At the same time I’m kind of happy it’s over so we can move on now, but that doesn’t mean you forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you. But now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career, and I’ve got to think about that.”
Julien’s counterpart, Bruce Cassidy, called the video tribute a “classy move” by the Bruins organization after the game had been settled, and there’s no doubting it was the right move for a coach that won over 400 games during his 10 years leading the Bruins. It was also the final chapter in his Bruins book as Julien now has completely moved on to his new gig guiding the Canadiens where it seems like his work is most definitely cut out for him.
FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?
The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.
Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year.
So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12.
Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated?
One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates.
When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important.
At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars.
The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles.
The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday.
Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.