*AtlantaFalcons.com contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a day-after look at the Falcons' 31-17 loss to the Eagles. Atlanta left Philly with some wounded pride, but saw the return of an old stalwart, wide receiver Michael Jenkins, with his career-high 99-yard performance that signifies a boon for the offense. *
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. —It didn't take Michael Jenkins long to get acclimated to NFL game speed.
Matt Ryan's first pass of Sunday's game was a 42-yard connection with the wide receiver that flipped the field and put Atlanta on Philadelphia's 23-yard line.
"Welcome to 2010, Michael Jenkins," Wes Durham, the Falcons radio play-by-play announcer, said at the conclusion of the catch and run once Jenkins was brought down by three Eagles defenders.
After missing most of training camp, all of the preseason and the first five games of this season, Jenkins' first catch was an impressive one and looked reminiscent of his 2008 touchdown catch in Week 1, which was the first of Ryan's career.
"I'm real excited," Jenkins said. "That was the longest I've ever been out. It felt good to get back in it and get back into the rhythm of the game and make a few plays."
A few plays from the wide receiver resulted in a career-high 99 yards on five catches. Atlanta's offense had operated well without Jenkins, but the return of the 6-foot-4 receiver can help open up the field and his blocking is vital in the run game.
The addition of Jenkins gives the offense another weapon to spread the ball to when opposing defenses take away go-to options like tight end Tony Gonzalez and receiver Roddy White.
"Well, Michael Jenkins is an integral part of what we want to try to do offensively," head coach Mike Smith said. "It allows us to distribute the ball to more players. I think Michael made a couple plays out there and it's going to be good in the long run that we're going to have Michael available for us for the rest of the season."
Behind Enemy Lines:The Falcons were sufficiently fooled by the Eagles' trickery Sunday.
Philadelphia used a mix of reverses and fakes on offense, showing looks the Falcons weren't prepared for from their film study.
Even after the speedy DeSean Jackson left the game with a head injury, the Eagles employed backup Jason Avant in a similar role. After Jackson burned the Falcons in the first quarter with an end-around run for a 31-yard touchdown, Atlanta couldn't help but watch for it again.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Tamari offers readers some insight into what happened when Philadelphia used Avant as the decoy on that same play in the third quarter. Avant was just as critical to the 83-yard touchdown bomb to receiver Jeremy Maclin as any other player on the field.
With Avant running a fake end-around, Falcons defenders bit on him, opening up the deep field for Maclin.
"When the corner comes down and bites on me, what happens is now it's just Jeremy and the safety," Avant said. "The play-action fake is always going to move the safety just an inch, and he moved more than that. We knew that if the safety would bite on it that we would have a chance."
It turns out they had more than a chance. With Atlanta keyed in on the misdirection, Maclin had 5 yards on safety Thomas DeCoud before the ball was even in his hands.
From the FanCast:After the Jackson touchdown sweep, the Falcons FanCast was disappointed, hoping the second play of Philly's first possession wouldn't be a sign of things to come.
But some fans had scouted the opponent enough to know plays like this should have been expected from Philadelphia's dynamic and dangerous offense, especially facing Atlanta, which had given up its fair share of plays of that nature this season.
"What's scary is that the Falcons are horrid against screens, misdirections and reverses," said one fan. "Philly's specialties, especially screens with McCoy."
The frustration grew as the plays kept coming and the yardage — and the score — kept totaling.
Statistically Speaking:After a loss like Sunday's, most everyone in the franchise will want to just turn the page and move on to the next game; losing 31-17 doesn't often give players or fans much to smile about.
Despite the tough road loss, the Falcons are still 4-2 and still sit at the top of the NFC South, holding the tie breaker over the Saints.
Beyond that, Atlanta's defense has shown improvement this season, after a 2009 when it could have been considered the liability often.
One key statistic that illustrates the improvement and shows how hard this team works on defense made its way through Sunday's game.
The Falcons have at least one sack and interception in all six games they've played this season.
Read that again, because it doesn't happen very often.
On the season, the Falcons have 12 sacks, including two or more in four of 2010's six games.
Safety William Moore's third interception of the season kept Atlanta's interception streak alive on Sunday. Just like with the sack totals, the Falcons have managed two or more interceptions in four of this year's games.
Moore's timely interception led to Atlanta's first score of the day. This season the Falcons have scored 43 points off their 11 takeaways, including 20 on five takeaways in their past three games.
Pivotal Play:Believe it or not, but there was a moment in this game where it appeared the Falcons were about to jump right back into it.
After scoring off the interception to end the first half, the Falcons forced a three-and-out to begin the second half. Then, Ryan led the offense down the field on a 14-play, six-minute drive that got them as close as the Philadelphia 9-yard line. The drive also included a fourth-and-2 conversion.
Atlanta wasn't able to punch it in and instead of walking away with a touchdown margin to scale, they were still down by 11. The Falcons were gaining momentum, but having to settle for the field goal took away some of their wind and on the next possession the 83-yarder struck.
That's A Wrap:Home sweet home for four weeks.
Atlanta returns to the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome next week to welcome the Cincinnati Bengals. Sunday's game is the precursor to the bye week before they return for two more games at home against Tampa and Baltimore.
The Bengals are coming off their own bye this week and are looking to rebound from a tough Week 5 loss to Tampa, 24-21.
That loss was a sour one with the Bucs hitting a final-second field goal after an interception by Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. A playoff team in 2009, the Bengals are better than they've played and they feature two playmakers at wide receiver, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
Entering the heart of the season, the real resiliency of the Falcons will be tested now. After a painful loss, they'll look to come home to defend the dome, a place where they've played nearly unbeatable football, 15-3 under Smith.