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NFL opener no classic, even with exciting finish

September 7, 2018
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Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones, front right, cannot catch a pass against Philadelphia Eagles' Ronald Darby during the final second of an NFL football game early Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 18-12. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Even with an exciting finish eerily similar to last January’s playoff game, this was pretty much a forgetful opener to the NFL season.

Even with another Philly Special, there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about in the Eagles’ 18-12 victory over the Falcons on Thursday night.

And even with a weather delay featuring some lightning before the Eagles and their fans could celebrate the unveiling of the banner for their first championship since 1960, this wasn’t exactly a sparkling display of football.

You can credit two pretty staunch defenses if you want. Yet despite neither team reaching 300 yards in total offense, neither D was dynamic because plays were there to be made. The offenses rarely could do so.

And then there were the penalties. Altogether, 30 points were scored — and two teams expected to contend for the NFL title compiled 26 penalties. It’s never a good sign when flags nearly equal points.

Hey, the Super Bowl champions gained 232 yards and gave away 101 in penalties. Atlanta, which must think there are hot coals lining the red zone at the Linc, gained 299 but had 135 yards in penalties.

“This stings for sure,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who certainly knows that feeling after the Super Bowl collapse two seasons back against New England, and then last winter’s divisional playoff loss here that ended almost exactly the same way as Thursday night’s defeat. “We knew this would be a competitive fight that would come down to the end, and it did.”

Competitive? For sure.

Classic? Not even close.

“It wasn’t pretty, it was sloppy,” All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson said. “But at the end we got a win.”

What NFL fans got ultimately might be an indictment of the preseason.

In Julio Jones’ case, it’s simple to say, “Who needs it?”

Jones didn’t play a down in August, but he was unstoppable against a Philadelphia defense that handled everyone else, especially the scatter-shot arm of Matt Ryan. While local native Ryan once again was struggling at the Linc, Jones still managed to make 10 receptions for 169 yards. Only when Atlanta got within the Eagles 20-yard line did Jones not dominate — in great part because Ryan kept making misguided throws.

Frankly, while Jones seemed to be in all-world form, Ryan — a virtual non-participant in the exhibition games — looked rusty.

The Eagles weren’t a whole lot better. Other than their opportunism and some creativity, they also were plagued by mistakes on both sides of the ball.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles caught another pass; it didn’t score a touchdown as the quarterback did against the Patriots, but it set up one of Jay Ajayi’s two TD runs. That was fun.

But the dropped passes, including some potential interceptions, and silly errors such as a blocker on the punt team letting the ball touch his foot, looked like something straight out of, well, an exhibition game.

“It wasn’t a rhythmic game but we fought hard and did the job,” Foles said. “Winning isn’t easy, especially against Atlanta. It was a dogfight. Our defense did a great job.”

If this is a harbinger of what the other openers might look like on Sunday and Monday, fans might want to juggle their viewing schedules. Remember, virtually every team preserved regulars for the games that count. Unfortunately, that just might mean counting the number of flags that fly and errors that occur from Miami to Minneapolis, from Detroit to Denver, more so than the touchdowns going up on the scoreboard.

“We made a ton of mistakes today,” safety Malcolm Jenkins noted. “But every time we got out there, we dealt with the situation. If we made mistakes, we moved on and we tried to win the situation.”

The Eagles did, displaying the kind of resilience that helped them to last season’s title. The Falcons flopped again in a tight spot, though it’s inconceivable such a talented group will continue to get in its own way like this again.

“It just came down to closing really,” Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant said.

This was one opening show that artistically deserved to close after one night.

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