ATLANTA – The Falcons and Eagles squared off for the third time in as many years on Sunday night. And just like the previous two meetings, it was another ugly, hard-hitting fist fight decided in the final seconds.
Only this time it was the Falcons who delivered the knockout blow.
Trailing 20-17 and staring at a fourth-and-3 from their own 46 with 2:20 left in the game, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones did something they were unable to do in the previous two games against Philadelphia: connect with the game on the line.
Ryan hit Jones in the left flat with a quick pass and after textbook blocks by Mohamed Sanu and Jake Matthews, the Falcons’ All-Pro receiver sprinted 54 yards untouched for what proved to be the game-winning score.
Prior to Sunday, the Eagles (1-1) had won the last three meetings against the Falcons (1-1) – all in Philadelphia. And as Falcons fans remember all too well, the last two games came down to fourth-down passes to Jones falling incomplete in the end zone.
This time the script was flipped.
Now it was the Eagles who found themselves trailing on the road in the final minutes needing a score to pull out an ugly win. Carson Wentz and the depleted Eagles offense (Dallas Goedert, DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery left the game with injuries) took over from their own 32-yard line with 2:03 remaining.
And, just like the Falcons in previous meetings, they went down swinging.
On second-and-2 from the Eagles’ 40-yard line, Wentz found a wide-open Nelson Agholor streaking 25 yards down the field along the left sideline in front of the Falcons bench. Wentz hit Agholor in stride, but the Eagles receiver simply dropped the ball.
Sometimes a little luck helps.
Five plays later, on a third-and-10 play at the Eagles’ 43 with 1:39 remaining, Vic Beasley sacked Wentz for a 4-yard loss. It was the third time the Falcons sacked Wentz Sunday night and it appeared the Eagles were down for the count.
But then, on fourth-and-14 on the Philadelphia 39 with 1:29 left, Wentz dropped the ball in between three Falcons defenders for a 43-yard catch and run.
The Eagles still had a pulse.
Four plays later with only 38 seconds left, the Eagles were in yet another do-or-die situation: a fourth-and-8 on the Falcons 16.
Wentz managed to connect with Zach Ertz for a 7-yard gain, but Falcons second-year cornerback Isaiah Oliver made one of the biggest tackles of his young career when he brought the Eagles’ Pro Bowl tight end down short of the first down.
Sure, it was ugly. The Falcons committed 10 penalties and turned the ball over three times for the second week in a row. And they could only muster 57 yards rushing, too.
But none of that matters. With their backs against the wall, the Falcons made plays when it mattered most.
And this time, the Falcons won the fight.