The Falcons earned their first victory of 2011 with a dramatic 35-31 comeback win in their home opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. There were several lead changes, but eventually the Falcons were able to overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
Matt Ryan led the team with 195 yards passing, with 4 touchdowns while completing 17 of 28 passes. He also threw two interceptions. Michael Turner had a strong performance with 114 yards rushing on 21 carries and a touchdown that ultimately proved to be the game-winner. Tony Gonzalez led the Falcons receivers with 7 catches for 83 yards and 2 scores. Roddy White added a score of his own along with 3 catches for 23 yards. Ovie Mughelli caught Ryan’s other touchdown pass, his only grab of the night for 1 yard. The Falcons did not have to rely on the leg of Matt Bryant, who attempted no field goals as the Falcons were perfect in scoring touchdowns on five trips into the redzone. Matt Bosher punted 7 times for an average of 35.6 yards with 1 placed inside the 20 yard line. Eric Weems had a single punt return of 19 yards and 3 kickoff returns averaging 26 yards.
Defensively, the Falcons allowed 447 total yards from the Eagles but forced three turnovers that resulted in an additional 14 points for the offense. Curtis Lofton led the group with 10 tackles, and also had 2 passes defended. John Abraham (2 tackles, 1 forced fumble, ), Ray Edwards (2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery), Brent Grimes (6 tackles), Kelvin Hayden (3 tackles, 1 interception), Peria Jerry (1 tackle, 1 forced fumble), William Moore (5 tackles), Stephen Nicholas (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), Chris Owens (3 tackles), Dunta Robinson (6 tackles, 1 pass defended), James Sanders (3 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (9 tackles) all had noteworthy games.
The game began with the Falcons defense showing its toughness with a four-and-out on the Eagles opening drive. The Falcons answered back by being able to move the ball a bit, but Ryan was sacked by Cullen Jenkins to force the first punt of the night for Bosher. The defense stood its ground once more with a three-and-out before Ryan and Turner helped engineer a 7-play, 38-yard scoring drive. That drive was helped by a 19-yard punt return from Weems that started things in Eagle territory. Ryan capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown strike to White in the back of the endzone to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead. The Eagles answered back with their own scoring drive as Michael Vick led the Eagles on a 12-play, 84-yard drive. The Eagles moved the ball all the way to the Falcons 8-yard line and an offside call on Abraham negated a third down stop that would have forced a field goal. Two plays later, Vick found a wide open Jeremy Maclin underneath for a five-yard score. The Falcons were unable to move the ball on the ensuing drive. Vick hit Jason Avant on a big 29-yard pass on third down to extend the Eagles next series, as they eventually settled for a 22-yard field goal from Alex Henery due to a tough goalline stand by the Falcons defense. The Falcons gave the ball right back to the Eagles with a three-and-out as there was now less than 5 minutes to go in the first half. The Eagles once again found themselves deep in Falcons territory. But from the Falcons 4-yard line, Peria Jerry blindsided Vick in the midst of a pitch, which led to a fumble. Ray Edwards scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 64 yards before DeSean Jackson caught him from behind at the Eagles 24-yard line. Four plays later, Matt Ryan found Tony Gonzalez in the back of the endzone for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Gonzalez made an excellent one-handed catch and after a booth review confirmed the initial ruling of a score, the Falcons now had a 14-10 led with 44 seconds left in the half. The Eagles would threaten as Vick moved the Eagles to midfield before he was stripped from behind by Abraham while scrambling, with Stephen Nicholas falling on the ball to give the Falcons possession with 14 seconds to go in the half. But with the Falcons trying to get in position for a field goal, Ryan threw an interception to Nnamdi Asomugha two plays later at midfield. Alex Henery missed on his 63-yard field goal attempt before the clock struck zero to keep the halftime score at 14-10.
Things went well for the Falcons at the start of the second half. Despite a three-and-out on their initial possession, Vick was picked off by Kelvin Hayden on the Eagles’ first offensive play. Michael Turner rumbled for 32 yards on a Ryan pass on first down to put the Falcons in the redzone, and Ryan hit Gonzalez for his second touchdown of the night from 17 yards out to take a 21-10 lead. But the Falcons defense relented, letting the Eagles quickly move down the field on four plays before Vick hit Jeremy Maclin on a 36-yard scoring strike, his second of the night. On the very next play on the ensuing drive, Ryan overthrew Julio Jones for an Asante Samuel interception. And four plays later with the Eagles already in Falcon territory, LeSean McCoy scored another touchdown from 8 yards out to give the Eagles their second lead of the night, the score now 24-21. The Falcons offense stalled twice more on their next two offensive series with a pair of three-and-outs before the Eagles would put up another touchdown as the third quarter waned. It started with a shanked 18-yard punt from Bosher from the Falcons own 2-yard line, giving the Eagles the ball at the Falcons own 20-yard line to start. Three plays later, the Falcons did manage to knock Vick out of the game with a concussion. But John Abraham was penalized once again with a roughing the passer on backup Mike Kafka on 2nd & goal from the 5-yard line two plays later. On the next play, LeSean McCoy scored on a 2-yard run to give the Eagles a 31-21 lead with 2 minutes left in the quarter.
The Falcons offense finally showed some life on their next drive, converting a pair of third downs to move the ball 80 yards on 12 plays before Ryan hit Ovie Mughelli for a 1-yard pass to cut the Eagles lead to 3 points. The defense stepped up with Vick off the field on the next drive, forcing a four-and-out. The Falcons regained possession at their own 20-yard line. But Joe Hawley was flagged for a holding penalty, his second of the night to push it back to the 13-yard line. But Michael Turner burst loose on the next play with a 61-yard run to get the Falcons into Eagle territory. The Falcons mixed in some Jacquizz Rodgers with two runs for a combined 12 yards before Turner was able to punch it in from 3 yards out to regain the lead 35-31 with 4:53 on the clock. Dion Lewis broke loose on the ensuing kickoff for a 63-yard gain, but a holding penalty on the Eagles negated it and started them at their own 9-yard line. Kafka was able to move the Eagles, thanks in large part to a 43-yard deep strike to Jeremy Maclin that put them in Falcon territory. Six plays later on 3rd & 3 just after the two-minute warning, Kafka hit Maclin on a quick pass, but he was stopped behind the line for a loss by Chris Owens. It brought up 4th & 4 with 1:45 remaining on the clock. Kafka threw to a wide open Maclin, who had the ball bounce off his hands to give possession back to the Falcons with 1:41 on the clock. But three kneel downs weren’t enough to run out the clock, and the Falcons were forced to punt the ball to DeSean Jackson with 15 seconds left. Bosher booted a 35-yarder which looked like Jackson was about to break until Stephen Nicholas made a huge stop on special teams. A hail mary attempt on the ensuing play was knocked down by Curtis Lofton and the Falcons emerged victorious.
The Falcons will travel next week to face division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) to try and take an early lead in the NFC South divisional title race. The Falcons have beaten the Buccaneers five straight times, including their last two on the road. But all five wins have come down to winning margins of less than 10 points. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 5-1 against the Bucs, their only losing effort being a 2008 Week 2 loss, which was the team’s first road contest under Smith and then rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. They will be facing a Bucs team that has lost 3 of its last 4 home games. That streak includes the Falcons most recent defeat of Tampa Bay, a 28-24 victory in Week 13 of last season. The Falcons have won their last 5 road games that directly followed a home victory, despite a previous 2-8 record under Smith in those same instances.