The Eagles open their season THIS WEEK down in Atlanta. It feels like just yesterday I was amping myself up for a 2020 Super Bowl run behind Carson Wentz. Hell, it feels like it was just a year or two ago that I was amping myself up for a 2015 Super Bowl run behind Sam Bradford (more on that in the bit).
For a non-NFC East team, Eagles fans have seen their share of big time matchups against the Falcons over the last handful of decades, including three Week 1 matchups this century. There’s a line of thinking among fans that going down to Atlanta is always a worrisome game. Looking at the history of these two teams squaring off, it’s more of a mixed bag and I wouldn’t use any historical precedent as a reason that the Eagles can’t go and demonstrate that they are the TRUE Birds of the NFL.
I’m going to turn an eye towards these Week 1 games against Atlanta. To start, let’s turn the clock backs to a bygone era of Eagles football...
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Patriots, the Eagles were eying their first ever Super Bowl win in the 2005 season. The team had made five-straight playoff appearances and four-straight NFC Championship Game appearances in addition to the previously mentioned Super Bowl loss. In the second year of the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens era, this would finally, finally be the time the Eagles had a Super Bowl parade down Broad Street.
That dream was essentially over before Week 1 began.
Less than an hour before kickoff, there was a confrontation between Falcons and Eagles players. Former Eagles All-Pro special teamer Ike Reese had joined Atlanta that offseason. When some Eagles congregated at midfield, a group of Atlanta players, led by Reese, responded and things got chippy and aggressive.
Multiple-time All-Pro linebacker Jeremiah Trotter got tossed, as did Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis. That situation did not provide a spark for the Eagles, as they lost 14-10 to Atlanta. After the Eagles beat the Falcons in the 2004 NFC Championship Game, Atlanta got their revenge.
Things spiraled out of control from there. The relationship between Owens and McNabb became broken beyond repair, Owens was deactivated for the rest of the season in November and the Eagles limped to a 6-10 fourth-place finish.
I’ve talked about the 2015 Eagles more than I ever thought I would this summer. I did a podcast last month about how that team’s infamous preseason game against the Packers illustrates how the preseason is ultimately an irrelevant endeavor. In last week’s mailbag, I was asked about how this year’s season opener down in Atlanta compares to the one the 2015 Eagles had.
Here’s what I said:
What stands out to me in comparing the 2015 Birds and this year’s squad is the complete difference in expectations. After the Eagles’ infamous preseason game in Green Bay paired with the thought that Chip Kelly could unlock Sam Bradford, the hype was out of control.
I was a senior in college that season. I was a part of that hype! That Week 1 Monday Night Football contest in Atlanta was actually the first game I ever bet on. In a sign of things to come, I lost because of the Eagles.
Kiko Alonso had an outrageously sick one-handed interception early, but the entire 2015 campaign went on a downward trajectory from there. Bradford was as mediocre as ever. Byron Maxwell was day-old burnt toast. DeMarco Murray was a loser who slid instead of fighting for a first time and taking on a hit. Kelly lacked any sense of social norms and wasn’t able to communicate with his players. That season sucked.
While Atlanta didn’t make the playoffs that season, they did make the Super Bowl the following year behind an MVP campaign from Matt Ryan. They were good!
It was a case of an overrated team running into a team on the rise.
This year? Those roles don’t fit.
I’ve seen national pundits say the Eagles are not just one of the worst teams in the league, but one that could finish with the worst record overall. Bleacher Report ranked Jalen Hurts as the 31st-best starting quarterback in the NFL. This is not a case of Bradford getting preseason MVP buzz. Nick Sirianni was clowned for his opening press conference after being named head coach. People thought Chip Kelly was a football messiah.
As for the Falcons team the Eagles will face on the road next weekend, Ryan is six years older (now 36) and Julio Jones is gone. Atlanta actually had a worse record (4-12 compared to 4-11-1) than the Birds in 2020.
I think Eagles fans were cocky as hell in 2015, expecting the team to go down there and spank the Falcons the same way the Eagles did against Washington in Week 1 in 2013. The Birds were actually 2.5-point road favorites! That bravado isn’t there this year.
I’m certainly not alone in thinking that Eagles team was going to the Super Bowl. It was the peak of Chip Kelly mania. No coach had commanded this city, for any sport, like Kelly since Buddy Ryan. Perhaps uncoincidentally, neither of those dudes ever won a playoff game in Philly.
The Eagles went down 20-3 at halftime against the Falcons during that Monday Night Football matchup before falling 26-24. The Eagles would start 0-2 before finishing 7-9 and going down as one of the most unlikable teams in Eagles history between Kelly being a complete weirdo and DeMarco Murray’s pure cowardice. If the Chip era doesn’t crash and burn the way it did at the right moment in time, the 2017 Super Bowl team never happens, so it is what it is in retrospect.
HEY! THE EAGLES FINALLY GET A WIN!
This game was in Philly, so it is a tad different, but what a memorial night it was. Opening the NFL season on a Thursday against an Atlanta team they had beaten in the playoffs back in January, the Eagles were defending Super Bowl champions. They had that patch on their jerseys and raised that Super Bowl banner we always dreamed of seeing at the top of the stadium.
Much like that NFC Divisional Playoff Game that had come several months before, this was a low-scoring affair. The Eagles pulled out an 18-12 win. Trailing 12-10 with less than three minutes left, Jay Ajayi rushed for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to put the Eagles over the top.
Here are some other games of note in Atlanta between the Eagles and Falcons that weren’t in Week 1:
2019, Week 2
This game was the birth of “Unlike Agholor.”
The Eagles fell 24-20.
2011, Week 2
After starting 1-0, the “Dream Team” lost their first of four-straight games before cratering and hitting 4-8 at one point.
2009, Week 13
The Eagles blew out Atlanta 34-7 on their way to a Wild Card playoff berth. Playing against the Falcons for the first time in his career, Michael Vick threw for a touchdown and rushed for one in the win.
2003, Week 9
Yet another Eagles-Falcons game coming after a playoff matchup the previous season, the Eagles pulled off a 23-16 win. Correll Buckhalter finished with 110 yards of total offense and McNabb had 312 passing yards.
1978, Wild Card Round
The first of four playoff games between the Falcons and the Eagles, Atlanta got a 14-13 win and advanced to the next round. This is the lone Eagles-Falcons playoff contest that was played in Atlanta, as the Eagles won the next three, all in Philadelphia.