They find a way. That’s the best thing about this Eagles team.
They did it last year, and they did it again Thursday night, muddling through some really horrifyingly ugly football to beat the Falcons in the 2018 NFL opener.
The Super Bowl champs are 1-0.
And who cares how?
Here are my 10 observations off the Eagles’ 18-12 opening-day win over the Falcons at the Linc.
1. I can’t explain Nick Foles. I can’t explain how a guy who can shred a Bill Belichick defense in a Super Bowl can look so out of sorts at home against the Falcons. But the thing about Foles is that when he has to make a play, he makes a play. There’s a reason he hasn’t lost a home game that he’s started and finished since 2013. There’s a reason he’s now 19-5 as the Eagles’ starter since opening day 2013. There’s a reason he’s a Super Bowl MVP. I’ll tell you what, I’d rather have a guy who wins ugly than one who loses pretty. Foles must have some serious internal strength to overcome such a horrific start Thursday night and make enough plays to will the Eagles to this win. Maybe it was the lack of work with the other starters. Maybe it was the Super Bowl hangover. I have no clue. But I know he wins. And really, that’s all I care about.
2. What a tremendous performance by the Eagles’ defense, especially down at the goal line. It had three goal-line stands, which is insane. Two in the first quarter and then the magical one at the end of the game. The Falcons had drives to the 1-, 3- and 5-yard lines and got three points out of it. That’s a ton of pressure to put on a defense, but the unit was brilliant when the game was on the line. Chris Long, Ronald Darby and Fletcher Cox in particular were massive Thursday night. It gave up some plays. It started to wilt late. The last couple minutes were scary. But just like Foles, it always seems to find a way. It found a way again Thursday night.
3. Here’s what I love about Doug Pederson running Philly Special II. It wasn’t to show off or be funny or show up the Falcons. It was to jump-start a stagnant offense, and it worked, leading to the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game. Before Nelson Agholor’s pass to Foles, the Eagles had netted 102 yards on 40 plays. It’s hard to be that bad.
4. I didn’t understand making Darren Sproles the centerpiece of the offense in the first half. I love Sproles, but to me he’s a change-of-pace guy, a situational guy. Not to mention, he’s 35 years old and hadn’t played a game — regular season, postseason, preseason — in 11½ months. The Eagles ran 28 plays in the first half, and nine of them involved Sproles. He was 4 for 5 rushing and was targeted five times in the passing game, catching two short passes for seven yards with a bad drop in there, too. Sproles made a couple plays in the second half as a changeup guy, which is where he’s best. There’s still a role for Sproles, but that was just too much too soon.
5. I didn’t get why Jay Ajayi had only three carries in the first half. Pederson finally got him going in the second half, and once Ajayi started picking up yards, the offense really got into a rhythm. Ajayi finally got going in the second half and really ran strong, finishing 15 for 62 with two touchdowns and a really sweet two-point conversion after the Eagles’ fourth-quarter touchdown. But the numbers don’t really show how well he ran. He ran tough. He moved the chains. He got the offense into a rhythm. I understand limiting Ajayi’s touches, but three in the first half just isn’t enough.
6. We really saw a lot of mistakes from some of the Eagles’ young players. Derek Barnett had two offsides penalties that negated huge third-down sacks by Long and Cox. Tre Sullivan got way too close to a punt, giving the Falcons possession. Dallas Goedert was unable to control a pass that was probably catchable and wound up getting intercepted to set up the Falcons’ only touchdown. Costly mistakes, and those are all promising players who you expect to have good careers, but they’re inexcusable mistakes, especially Barnett simply lining up offsides and Sullivan not getting the heck away from a live football. The Eagles have a ton of young players in the mix, and they’re going to have to grow up fast.
7. Rasul Douglas’ fourth-quarter interception really demonstrates the depth of the Eagles’ cornerback stable. Darby gets nicked and comes out of the game briefly, and Douglas takes his spot and makes a huge interception off Matt Ryan inside the 5-yard line. Darby is 24. Douglas is 23. Jalen Mills is 23. Sidney Jones is 22. They’re going to make mistakes, but this is really an incredible group of young corners.
8. Rough night for Zach Ertz, who never drops passes but had three against the Falcons, two of them on third downs that would have given the Eagles a first down. Ertz caught 5 for 48 but you just expect a guy with his pedigree to drop three passes in a month, much less a game. With Alshon Jeffery out, the Eagles need Ertz to be great.
9. Impressive NFL debut for Cameron Johnston. The rookie Aussie has a tough act to follow, trying to replace Donnie Jones — who was at the game Thursday night — but he began his career with punts of 56, 65, 58, 38, 50 and 46 yards and finished the night a remarkable average of 52.2 and net average of 50.3.
10. This was an ugly game filled with penalties and mistakes, but I thought the energy and toughness and spirit the Eagles showed after a short offseason was fantastic. It’s really not an easy thing to do, bouncing back after winning a championship and a short offseason and winning football games. It doesn’t matter how the Eagles did it, they did it, beating a potential NFC playoff team in a game with huge playoff implications. Speaks volumes for the job Pederson did this offseason guiding the team through the pratfalls of the Super Bowl hangover. This is a hungry team. This is a motivated team. And this is a talented team. It's not going away any time soon.