PHILADELPHIA -- The Falcons' first fourth-quarter comeback of the season fell just short as they lost their first game of the season to the Philadelphia Eagles, 18-12.
After surrendering their fourth quarter lead on an 11-yard touchdown run by Eagles running back Jay Ajayi, the Falcons got the ball back with just over two minutes left and the chance to drive for the win.
Atlanta moved the ball down the field well, moving into Eagles territory in just two plays thanks to a 36-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. Jones was big on the drive, catching three passes for 63 yards, and it's Jones who Ryan turned to on the final play of the game.
Ryan failed to connect on his first four passes from the Eagles' 10-yard line, but a penalty gave the Falcons one last chance on fourth down with 1 second remaining in the game. Ryan threw a jump ball up to Jones on the left sideline, and although he came down with the ball, he was pushed out of bounds and the Eagles held on for the win.
Deion Jones' interception leads to Falcons' first touchdown
Dan Quinn often talks about how he wants his team to play off one another and pick each other up in tight spots, and that's exactly what the defense did following Matt Ryan's interception in the fourth quarter. On first down at the Eagles' 29-yard line, Damontae Kazee had a big hit to jar the ball loose from Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert, which linebacker Deion Jones picked out of the air for an interception.
The Falcons' offense didn't waste that gift by the defense. Starting at the Eagles' 27-yard line, Ryan found Julio Jones for an 18-yard gain to pick up a first down at the 9-yard line. On the very next play, Tevin Coleman broke free for a 9-yard touchdown to give Atlanta a 12-10 lead. A bobbled snap on the extra point caused Matt Bryant's kick to bounce off the uprights, keeping the score at 12-10.
Falcons defense pitches first-quarter shutout
The Falcons defense picked right up where it left off in 2017. Atlanta, which finished in the top 10 in both scoring defense (19.7 points per game) and total defense (318.4 yards per game), held the Eagles to zero yards in total offense in the first quarter.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was held in check, completing 2 of 3 passes for just 10 yards. The Eagles ran it three times for 3 yards. The Falcons outgained the Eagles 113-0 while running 12 more offensive plays (20 to 8) in the process. Philadelphia was also 0 for 2 on third down.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, their offense was unable to capitalize on the dominating performance. Despite moving the ball well, Atlanta struggled in the red zone (0 for 2) and only managed a 3-0 lead. The Falcons ran four plays inside the 5-yard line and lost a yard on those plays.
Keanu Neal ruled out to return to with knee injury
Falcons safety Keanu Neal left Thursday night's game with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return to the game.
Neal initially left the game in the first half with a knee injury but returned shortly after. On the first drive of the second half, Neal injured his knee again and was helped off the field by the Falcons' medical staff.
Plenty of penalties on both sides Thursday night
The 2018 NFL Kickoff game was a sloppy affair for both teams. There were 26 combined penalties on Thursday night, 15 for the Falcons and 11 for the Eagles. The frequency of penalties caused the game to feel a bit disjointed, and there were several rounds of boos from the Philadelphia crowd at times because of the number of yellow flags on the field.
Falcons can't punch it in twice in first half
One of the biggest areas of emphasis for the Falcons this offseason was improvement in the red zone. Atlanta converted just 50 percent of its red-zone opportunities in 2017, which was 23rd in the NFL. On their two first-half chances inside of the red zone on Thursday night the Falcons could come away with only a field goal.
The Falcons ran three plays from the 1-yard line on their first possession, but they could not gain the 1 yard needed for a touchdown and turned the ball over after Devonta Freeman was tackled for a loss on fourth down.
Atlanta once again reached the red zone on its second possession, but did not fare much better. On third-and-goal at the 3-yard line, Matt Ryan tried to force a pass into Austin Hooper, but there was early contact on Hooper that prevented him from reaching the ball. There was no call on the play, and the Falcons opted to kick a 21-yard field goal and take an early 3-0 lead.
The Falcons had success moving the ball in the first half, out-gaining the Eagles 152-68, but they could not turn those yards into touchdowns. As the first half continued, the Falcons struggled on third down and ended up converting two of their seven third-down chances before halftime.
Big play to Julio ruled not a catch
It looked as though the Falcons had finally broken through with a field-flipping explosive play, courtesy of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, but the catch rule once again played a key role. On first down at the Falcons' 32-yard line, Ryan hit Jones down the right sideline, who juggled the ball but appeared to finally corral it and pin it against his shoulder before sliding out of bounds.
The play would have been a 52-yard gain and set the Falcons up deep in the Eagles' territory with a first down but it was called incomplete on the field. Dan Quinn challenged the ruling on the field, but the call was upheld making it second down for the Falcons, who could not pick up another first down.
On the ensuing drive, the Eagles marched down the field and scored the first touchdown of the game to take a 10-6 lead over the Falcons.
Falcons come up with fumble recovery on muffed punt
The Falcons created the first turnover of the game late in the third quarter, when safety Kemal Ishmael recovered a muffed punt by Eagles returner Tre Sullivan. The fumble recovery set the Falcons up at the Eagles' 32-yard line, but they couldn't come away with any points as Matt Ryan's pass to Julio Jones on third down in the red zone was intercepted by cornerback Rasul Douglas.