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Tabeek: Tough loss to Eagles could be a defining moment in Falcons season

Julio catch

PHILADELPHIA – You know that feeling, when you know you're right, but you can't say it without sounding or looking foolish.

Proof always helps. And when it comes to sports, stats, records or a score usually does the trick.

Well on Thursday night in front of a nationally televised audience, the Falcons were this close to providing me with the perfect ammo. I was convinced of it.

Right there, during the final drive, I thought the verification was going to be lit up on the scoreboard at Lincoln Financial Field for all the world to see.

But on first-and-goal at the Eagles' 5-yard line with only one second left in regulation, that would-be proof was caught by Julio Jones and vanished into the hot, muggy air as the Falcons' all-world receiver came down out of bounds.

And that scoreboard read: Falcons 12, Eagles 18.

The Falcons lost largely because they were in the red zone five times and only came away with points twice. They weren't efficient on third down, either, converting just four of 15 attempts. And who can forget the 26 total penalties called – 15 on the guys in red-and-black for 135 yards. That's the most called on the Falcons in one game since 1990.

On the flip side, the Falcons' defense was outstanding. They held the Eagles to just 232 yards of total offense, sacked quarterback Nick Foles twice and picked him off once (by Deion Jones, who finished with a game-high nine tackles). Throw in a fumble recovery and the Falcons also came out on the plus side for turnovers.

Yes, the Falcons had plenty of opportunities to put the Eagles away but didn't. Now they're heading back to Atlanta with an 0-1 record. Those are the hard, cold facts.

The way Thursday night's game unfolded and how it finished was eerily familiar to the Falcons' 15-10 loss to the Eagles here back on Jan. 13, 2018. That game was played 237 days ago (in much colder weather), but in some respects it feels like it was just last week.

Maybe it's also because I left both games with the same gut feeling: The better team lost. There, I said it. It happens all the time in this league. 

The NFL is all about surviving and advancing. Both times now the Eagles have done just enough to survive the Falcons and move on with a win.

The good news for Atlanta is that this most recent setback was not an elimination game. These Falcons have 15 more opportunities to show why all of those national writers predicted Super Bowl titlesdivision championships and No. 2 seeds in the NFC for this team during the offseason.

And remember what I told you here back on Aug. 30. The Falcons are embarking on a 115-day marathon. It started here in Philadelphia and ends on Dec. 30 in Tampa Bay. During these 16 weeks (and three days), we'll learn everything we need to know about these Falcons.

And they'll likely suffer setbacks along the way. There's too much parity in this league and winning on the road is never a given.

In 2016, the Falcons opened their season with a disappointing 31-24 loss to the Buccaneers. A divisional loss. At home, no less, in the old Georgia Dome. Some around these parts thought the sky was falling.

That same team went on to win five of their final six regular-season games, captured the NFC title and advanced to Super Bowl LI. In fact, three of the last four times the Falcons lost their season-opening games, they went on to make the playoffs.

The better team doesn't always win, is my point.

No, I have no idea how these 2018 Falcons will ultimately finish. But just because they lost one game on the road to the defending Super Bowl champs doesn't mean you should write the season off, either.

That's pure silliness.

Good teams, like the Eagles did Thursday night, find a way to win close games.

Great teams, like the Falcons can be, are resilient and overcome adversity.

This is a veteran team, with 19 of 22 starters back from last year's playoff team. They know what's facing them too: Back-to-back games against division foes Carolina and New Orleans.

This loss could end up being a defining moment for this team. And you'd be wise not to count them out.

"This is just one game," Julio Jones said. "We're going to keep working.

"Period."

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