Chip Kelly's revamped Eagles team opens with a loss in Atlanta
ATLANTA — Jordan Matthews fell to his knees and clutched his helmet, the ball having slipped through his hands to snuff out Philadelphia's final chance.
This time, the Eagles couldn't come all the way back from a big hole in the season opener.
Rallying from a 17-point halftime deficit, Philadelphia grabbed the lead for the first time midway through the fourth quarter. But the Atlanta Falcons bounced back for a 26-24 victory Monday night, holding on when the Eagles squandered a couple of opportunities in the closing minutes.
Cody Parkey missed a 44-yard field goal with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. The Eagles got one more chance, but Sam Bradford's pass over the middle to Matthews slipped through the receiver's hands and was intercepted by Ricardo Allen, sealing Atlanta's victory in the coaching debut for Dan Quinn.
A year ago, the Eagles trailed Jacksonville 17-0 in the opening game before scoring 34 straight points in the second half.
They were in position for another unlikely victory when, facing fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 26, coach Chip Kelly hesitated briefly before sending on his field-goal unit.
"I've got great confidence in Cody that he would put it through," Kelly said. "He's hit those before."
But Parkey's kick sailed wide of the right upright.
"Perfect snap. Perfect hold every time," he said. "My fault."
There was still plenty of time when the Eagles got the ball back, but those hopes faded when Matthews couldn't hang on to Bradford's final pass, the ball deflecting into Allen's arms with 1:11 left.
"I've just got to make a play," Matthews said. "Nothing more, nothing less."
Julio Jones hauled in nine passes for 141 yards, including a pair of touchdowns, and led the Falcons to a 20-3 halftime lead. The margin would have been even bigger if not for Kiko Alonso's dazzling one-handed interception while falling backward in the end zone.
The Eagles rallied behind Bradford, taking the lead for the first time at 24-23 on Ryan Mathews' 1-yard run with 8:37 remaining.
Atlanta then drove into position for Matt Bryant's fourth field goal of the game, a 47-yarder with 6:27 to go that turned out to be the winner.
Bradford, in his first regular-season game in nearly two years and making his debut for the Eagles, was 36 of 52 for 336 yards. But Philadelphia's much-hyped running game, led by newcomer DeMarco Murray, was largely a bust.
After leading the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing in Dallas last season, Murray was held to 9 yards on eight carries. Ryan Mathews had only 4 yards, while Darren Sproles led the way with 50 yards on the ground.
Other than a 69-yard drive that led to a field goal, the up-tempo Eagles generated just 56 yards on their other seven first-half possessions — three of which went three-and-out, and another ended quickly when Bradford was intercepted.
"We couldn't get anything going in the first half," Bradford said.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan shook off a pair of interceptions, including one on the first possession of the second half that turned the momentum in Philadelphia's favor. He was 23 of 34 for 298 yards.
The Eagles clamped down on Jones in the second half, but he finally got loose for his only catch after the break — a 44-yarder that set up Bryant's winning kick.
On the third play of the second half, Ryan threw a deep pass down the middle just as he was hit. Walter Thurmond stepped in to make the interception, returning it 23 yards to the Atlanta 8. After an incomplete pass, Murray took off around right end for Philadelphia's first touchdown of the season.
The Falcons were forced to punt, and the Eagles put together their most impressive drive of the night to that point. Despite four penalties, they went 95 yards in 13 plays, capped off by Bradford's 5-yard touchdown pass to Murray that sliced Atlanta's lead to 20-17. The running back hauled in the throw, cut back to leave Kroy Biermann sprawled face-first on the turf, and sauntered into the end zone.
Philadelphia wasn't done, either.
Bradford guided the Eagles 80 yards in just six plays, including four consecutive completions that went for 24, 12, 21 and 19 yards to the Atlanta 1. Mathews took it in from there, giving Philadelphia its first lead.
"I told the guys at halftime it was a tale of two halves," Kelly said. "We played a lot better in the second half."
Not quite good enough.
NOTES: Matthews finished with 10 catches for 102 yards. ... The Falcons had a 105-63 edge in rushing yards against Philadelphia's much-hyped running game. Rookie Tevin Campbell led the way with 80 yards on 20 carries. ... Both teams had a pair of interceptions. William Moore also had a pick for Atlanta. ... The Falcons won their home opener for the eighth year in a row.