*A failure to defend the explosive play and Andy Reid's trickery led to Atlanta allowing 31 points on the road Sunday in Philadelphia and was as vital a part of the 31-17 loss as any other area of the game. The Falcons have been through this before and know they need to correct it quickly before returning home for a Week 7 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. *
PHILADELPHIA –A frustrated Mike Smith called the play of his team in Sunday's 31-17 loss to the Eagles "unacceptable".
After allowing seven plays of 20 or more yards — three that went for touchdowns — the Falcons head coach felt a performance like that makes it almost too difficult to come back from, let alone win.
"Very, very poor performance by our football team in all three phases," Smith said after the loss. "We knew that if we gave up explosive plays we were going to have a hard time and we did not do a very good job with that at all today. When you give them up, you're usually going to give up points and that's what we did."
Entering Sunday's game, the Falcons knew they were facing an offense with explosion, but they had a performance trend on their side.
After allowing some costly big plays in the season's first three games (20-plus yards), in the past two games, Atlanta had not allowed a single play of 19 or more yards. Even in the first three games they limited the explosive play to a minimum, giving them a top-five ranking in the NFL in big plays allowed.
With dangerous quarterback Michael Vick essentially out of the game as the Eagles' emergency third quarterback, the Falcons may have believed they were well prepared to make it three straight games.
But when the first play of the game went for 22 yards to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, it looked like it was going to be a long day.
On the very next play, receiver DeSean Jackson ran a reverse for a 31-yard touchdown, and just like that Atlanta was confused and in a hole deeper than the 7-0 score implied.
The Eagles' first five weeks of film gave Atlanta its game plan and Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid flipped the script on the Falcons, showing them a completely different look than what was expected.
"I think he (Reid) did a good job of getting us with the reverses early and the deep pass, things like that," defensive end John Abraham said. "We're a sound defense and we do our jobs well. I think he did a good job tricking us in moments that he should."
The big play broke Atlanta's back Sunday and after starting the season 4-1, many believed the Falcons could go into Philadelphia, where the Eagles hadn't won yet this season, and firmly place themselves in the driver's seat of the NFC.
Instead they come away wondering if what hurt them last season and to begin this season is rearing its ugly head.
"It was just a rough day," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "It hurts to lose like this."
Even with the early big plays (five came in the first half), the Falcons managed to hang around, keeping themselves in the game, but in the third quarter, following a touchdown to make it 21-10, Philadelphia responded once again with what Smith said was the back-breaker.
On second-and-10 at the 6:29 mark, Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb connected with Maclin again, this time for an 83-yard strike to pull away. The key to the play was the beginning, a fake reverse that froze Atlanta's defenders.
"I read my keys," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "I was going over the top of him. I whipped my head back to see what the actual play was. He took off on me. I had bad eyes on the play. I still need to get better at that. It was just one of those plays where they got behind us and they made a play."
It was essentially the game-ender and a microcosm of what ailed the Falcons all day. Facing an Eagles offense that deceived Atlanta, big play after big play came and they could do little to stop them.
Atlanta never felt discouraged by what was happening, believing they were in the game until the bitter end, but they could do little to slow Reid's confounding offense.
"We were fine," Abraham said. "I think they just got some plays on us. What we prepared for was totally different from what they did. They did more tricks than we thought and they did plays to slow down our D-line. They did a great job."
Now, the Falcons must return to the drawing board, a place they've been before and clean up a defense that gave up more than half the number of explosive plays in one day than they have all season.
"We've corrected it once," DeCoud said. "We've just got to go out and correct it again. We don't want to have to correct it twice, but it showed up again and we've got to get it corrected."