The Arthur Smith Era got off to a disappointing start Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The new Atlanta Falcons head coach and his players endured a mistake-filled afternoon, Jalen Hurts passed for 264 yards and three touchdowns and the Philadelphia Eagles rolled to a 32-6 victory on the first weekend of NFL action.
“It’s a long season to go but I certainly didn’t do a good job of getting us ready to go today,” Smith said in a brief opening statement to the media.
Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith caught six passes for 71 yards and one touchdown in his NFL debut, and the Eagles (1-0) outclassed the Falcons (0-1) in a matchup featuring two first-time head coaches in Philadelphia’s Nick Sirianni and Smith.
Atlanta now has to regroup quickly with a road trip this Sunday to face Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m going to evaluate everything,” Smith said. “Whether we win or lose, we’ve got to turn it around. We’ve got 16 more of these things. Like I said, I’ve been in worse situations. The narratives write themselves. We had won, you can write the narratives. You lose, neither one of them are true because we’ve got a long journey ahead of us and we’ve got to get better. Where I think I’m frustrated is I’ve got to evaluate what I’m doing, whether it’s coaching, messaging, about let’s get lined up and not when you’re on the two-yard line get in an illegal formation.
“That’s the stuff that really concerns me. Whatever you feel like it is there, that’s just the truth. That’s coming from me. I’m not trying to be a martyr here. That’s my job as head coach. I’m responsible for the entire team. When you go out there and you have those self-inflicted wounds right there, that’s a problem.”
Dallas Goedert and Jalen Reagor also caught scoring passes and Kenneth Gainwell ran for a touchdown for Philadelphia. Miles Sanders had 113 scrimmage yards (74 rushing, 39 receiving) and Hurts completed 27 of 35 passes and also rushed for 62 yards.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was 21-for-35 passing for 164 yards but his team was outgained 434-260. Ryan was under heavy pressure late when Atlanta was forced to go to a pass-heavy attack and his offensive line struggled with a stout Eagles front.
“The game plan was to not let what happened at the end of the game when you get obvious (passing situations) and you’ve got to play obvious football and that’s a damn good front,” Smith said. “I wasn’t just sitting there pumping their tires. It’s the truth. When you get obvious, it’s hard, and so when you look at the stat line and, what, we gave up three sacks late? You’re playing three quarters in a two-possession game. Certainly not pretty, but when you’ve got obvious and you’re playing right into their hands and that’s what happened and what’s that I was trying to avoid all game.
“And I thought we did a pretty decent job in the first half. (Ryan) was pretty clean. And we obviously didn’t score the touchdowns, which led us, we got down too many possessions. That’s on the offense. Defense is out there fighting, and we didn’t put any stress on them.”
Younghoe Koo kicked two field goals for the Falcons, who had 144 yards of total offense in the first quarter and just 116 over the final three stanzas.
Philadelphia led by nine points at halftime and increased its lead to 22-6 when Gainwell scooted eight yards to cap a six-play, 50-yard drive with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
Atlanta showed few signs of making a comeback but Javon Hargrave’s fourth-down sack of Ryan with 5:38 remaining effectively ended any hopes. The Eagles formally put the game away when Reager caught a receiver screen pass from Hurts and took it 23 yards to make it 29-6 with 4:20 left.
Hargrave again sacked Ryan on fourth down with 3:13 left, and Jake Elliott tacked on a 43-yard field goal with 1:10 remaining as the Eagles finished Sirianni’s first career win in style.
Hurts had 169 passing yards and 37 on the ground in the first half as the Eagles held a 15-6 advantage.
The Falcons opened the game with a 14-play, 72-yard drive but it stalled and they settled for Koo’s 21-yard field goal.
Philadelphia navigated 75 yards on seven plays with its first possession, and Hurts capped it with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Smith with 6:17 left in the quarter.
Atlanta again had a long drive that stalled on its second possession. The Falcons moved 74 yards on 15 plays but it ended with Koo’s 27-yard field goal eight seconds into the second quarter.
The Eagles put together a 12-play, 62-yard drive late in the half with Hurts hitting Goedert with a 9-yard scoring pass with two seconds left. Sanders tacked on a two-point conversion run.
“There’s still a lot of optimism,” Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett said. “We feel good about this team and we believe in the guys we have and believe in the leadership we have. And there’s a lot of football out there and you know, this year we get an extra game, so we chop this one up and have 16 more to go and we’ve got a lot of good football to play and a lot ahead of us.”