Matt Ryan

Déjà vu: Eagles help Falcons relive a nightmare

Déjà vu: Eagles help Falcons relive a nightmare

The Atlanta Falcons came to Philly to start their 2018 season fresh and ended up reliving a nightmare they've been haunted by for eight months.

One play to win the game.

Throw the ball to Julio.

Nope.

"It's déjà vu all over again," Jalen Mills said after Thursday night's 18-12 win (see 10 observations).

In the same fashion the Eagles ended the Falcons' 2017 season, they gave them a loss to start their 2018 season. You'll remember Matt Ryan rolling right and trying to find Julio Jones in the end zone in the divisional round last year. Jones didn't catch that ball and came down out of bounds against tight coverage from Mills.

This time?

It was Ronald Darby on Jones ... and on the left side. One second left from the 5-yard line.

Same result.

"You lined up on 11, you know you're hot," Darby said. "You gotta lock in and make a play. Last game, my boy J-Mill made the play. In this game, I made it. That's why you have guys like us, to go out and compete. We just find a way to win."

This time, Jones was actually able to catch the ball but his momentum carried him out of bounds. Darby did a good job to stick with him and make sure he didn't land in the green.

After he made the game-ending play, Darby took off running, trying to do his best impression of Mills from last year's divisional round win.

He didn't get very far.

"I tried to run around," Darby said. "I was tired, so I couldn't run all the way down the field."

It was an exhausting game in 80-plus degree temperatures in South Philly. The last time these two teams played, it was in January.

So Thursday was a little different.

"It kind of did [remind me of last year's game]," Chris Long said. "Just hotter."

The Falcons got into the red zone five times on Thursday night but scored just one touchdown and one field goal on those drives.

The Eagles' defense put together a pretty spectacular performance. At times it bent ... it didn't break.

And on Thursday, even the last play wasn't the last play. The Eagles actually stopped the Falcons on 4th-and-goal, but an illegal contact penalty against Jordan Hicks — "I can't put our team in that situation," he said — gave the Falcons one more play with one second left.

The Eagles didn't panic. Malcolm Jenkins stressed for his teammates to regroup.

They did.

"All of us want to be the guy to make that play," Darby said. "Like, please come my way. I want to be the guy who celebrates, I wanted everybody to be yelling. Ya feel me?"

Yeah, we feel ya, Darb.

The Eagles somehow pulled off a nearly identical win against the same team eight months apart. The Falcons are going to have nightmares for a long time to come.

More on the Eagles

Eagles vs. Falcons: 10 observations from another thrilling win over Atlanta

Eagles vs. Falcons: 10 observations from another thrilling win over Atlanta

BOX SCORE

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.

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What Matt Ryan's extension means for Carson Wentz

What Matt Ryan's extension means for Carson Wentz

Every time an NFL quarterback signs a record-setting contract, Carson Wentz’s price tag goes up a little bit more.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan got a five-year, $150 million deal Thursday with a staggering $100 million guaranteed. 

Ryan’s contract supplants Jimmy Garoppolo’s five-year, $132 million deal (with $41.7 million guaranteed) as the largest in NFL history in terms of total compensation, and it replaces Kirk Cousins' three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million contract with the Vikings as the deal with the most guaranteed money.

Garoppolo signed in February and Cousins in March, so the three highest-paid quarterback deals in history have all come this offseason. 

And Ryan’s stay as the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history won’t last long. Now that market value has been set for elite quarterbacks, the Packers are likely to re-up Aaron Rodgers for a deal even more lucrative than Ryan’s.

And then someone will come along and get more than Rodgers.

This is life in the NFL. As the salary cap goes up every year, so do contracts. 

As recently as June of last summer, Andrew Luck was the highest-paid quarterback in NFL history at $24.5 million per year. Now he’s seventh.

In a few years? Ryan — if he’s still playing and still on this contract — will be one of the lower-paid quarterbacks in the league. 

That’s the NFL quarterback salary circle of life. 

And that brings us to Wentz. He’s not as accomplished as Rodgers, who’s won a Super Bowl, or Ryan, who’s been to one, but based on his Pro Bowl performance before he got hurt last year, Wentz will be in line for a mammoth deal of his own.

Wentz is signed through 2019 with the Eagles holding an option for 2020 that would pay Wentz the average of the top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, which would probably be close to $30 million.

But the Eagles would like to lock Wentz up to a long-term extension as soon as possible because the longer he plays at an elite level, the higher his price tag goes.

The Eagles aren’t allowed to sign Wentz to a new deal until after 2018, his third NFL season, but the other QB contracts are starting to give us an idea of what Wentz may wind up getting.

Wentz’s current five-year rookie deal pays him an average of about $6.7 million per year, which makes him the 26th-highest-paid quarterback in the league.

Not for long.

Wentz needs to prove he’s healthy and still the same player he was before his knee injury, but assuming he does, he’ll be in line for a deal in the ballpark of $30 million per year.

Why so much for a kid who’s only started 29 games and didn’t even finish the 2017 Super Bowl season? 

Simple. The Eagles have been trying to find a franchise quarterback for two decades. Now that they have him, they’re going to want to secure him in an Eagles uniform for as long as possible as soon as possible.

And that means making him one of the NFL’s highest-paid quarterbacks.

And that means $28 to $30 million per year. If not more.

And that’s why it’s so important for the Eagles to continue to draft well. When you’re devoting that huge a chunk of your salary cap to one player, you can’t afford to sign a bunch of free agents. So your rookies — your cheap labor — have to contribute.

And if you think $30 million a year is a lot? Just imagine if Wentz had done what Nick Foles did in January and February. That $30 million might not even get him to the bargaining table.