In his first game with that big contract, Julio Jones was worth every penny.
Jones hauled in nine passes for 141 yards, including a pair of touchdowns, and the Atlanta Falcons came back after squandering a 17-point halftime lead to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 Monday night in the coaching debut of Dan Quinn.
“Julio is an awesome player,” said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who overcame a pair of costly interceptions. “He’s as good as it gets, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Coming off the best season of his career, Jones was rewarded with a new $71.25 million contract. Early on, he dominated the Eagles’ revamped secondary as Atlanta raced to a 20-3 halftime lead.
Philadelphia rallied behind new quarterback Sam Bradford, taking the lead for the first time at 24-23 on Ryan Mathews’ 1-yard run with 8:37 remaining.
Back came the Falcons, driving 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.
Cody Parkey was wide right on a 44-yard field goal that could have restored Philadelphia’s lead. The Eagles had one more chance, but cornerback-turned-safety Ricardo Allen intercepted a pass that went through the hands of Jordan Matthews, sealing the victory with 1:11 left.
“They didn’t want to throw it at my corners so they threw it in the middle of the field,” Allen said. “They tipped the ball and it landed in my lap.”
Bradford, in his first regular-season game in nearly two years after being acquired in a trade with St. Louis, 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.
Coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense looked unstoppable in the preseason but bogged down in the first half against the fired-up Falcons, who hope the energetic Quinn can turn things around from a 10-22 showing the last two seasons under Mike Smith.
“You just trust the preparation, let it rip and have fun,” Quinn said. “That’s what we did.”
Other than a 69-yard drive that led to a field goal, the 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. The deficit would have been even bigger if not for Kiko Alonso’s dazzling one-handed interception while falling backward in the end zone.
“We couldn’t get anything going in the first half,” Bradford said.
Jones repeatedly burned new Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell, including touchdowns of 4 and 22 yards. Philadelphia clamped down in the second half, but Jones finally got loose for his only catch after the break: a 44-yarder that set up Bryant’s winning field goal.
Bryant also connected from 41, 39 and 44 yards.
“The big thing that you can take from this win is that we finished,” Bryant said. “Coach Quinn has really emphasized over the preseason about finishing.”
Ryan was 23 of 34 for 298 yards but handed Philadelphia the momentum on the third play of the second half. A deep pass down the middle just as he was hit was picked off by safety Walter Thurmond, who returned 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 of the game.
“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.
SOURCE: The Associated Press