The last time the Eagles won a game by 26 points was 2017. The last time they won an opener by 26 points was 2009. The last time they won by 26 points in a head coach’s first game was 1964.
It was a historic performance for the Eagles in Atlanta, a 32-6 win over the Falcons in Nick Sirianni’s head coaching debut.
Here’s our 10 observations from a remarkable season opener from Jalen Hurts and the Eagles:
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1. What a brilliant performance from Hurts in his first opening-day start and his first game under Nick Sirianni. He played such smart football and saw the field so well. Responded beautifully to pressure, didn’t force anything when it wasn’t there, took what the defense gave him, spread the ball around, used his legs when it was the right thing to do, threw the ball accurately and just showed terrific poise and command of the offense throughout the game. You still think he can’t throw the football? Hurts was 27-for-35 — that’s 77 percent — for 264 yards, three TDs, no turnovers and 62 rushing yards on seven carries.
2. It didn’t take long for DeVonta Smith to show why there’s been so much hype around this kid. So smooth. Terrific body control. Real knack for getting open. And catches the ball effortlessly. You can see the chemistry he and Hurts have. Smith had the early 18-yard touchdown, making him the first Eagles rookie with a TD catch on opening day since tight end Keith Jackson's 8-yarder from Randall Cunningham in Tampa in 1988. He finished 6-for-71, and only DeSean Jackson (106 vs. the Rams in 2008) has had more yards for the Eagles in a career debut. This franchise has been waiting for a kid like this for a long time.
3. Sirianni really called an exceptional game in his debut as an NFL play caller and did a very good job getting Hurts into a rhythm with the high-percentage short passes we saw so much of in training camp. I thought Sirianni’s best work came on the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, when the Eagles got the ball back on their own 38-yard-line with 1:44 left before halftime and just chipped away down the field, squeezing 12 plays into those 104 seconds and ultimately taking a 15-6 lead on Hurts’ brilliant roll-out TD pass to Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders' two-point conversion run. He used the short passing game to build the lead and then unleashed a fresh Sanders on the Falcons in the second half. And I like how he mixed in Kenny Gainwell and really did a terrific job keeping the Falcons off balance. It’s always fun seeing deep shots, but the Eagles didn’t need them Sunday; why run low-percentage plays when you’re moving the ball without them? All in all, an auspicious debut for Sirianni.
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4. A ton of credit to Jonathan Gannon for not just making adjustments after the first couple Atlanta drives but also just getting his guys to calm down and stop trying to do too much. Early on, the Eagles were getting gashed on the ground, allowing long third-down conversions, missing tackles, the works. The Falcons’ offense was really out-physical-ing the Eagles’ defense early. The Falcons piled up 144 yards on those first two drives, and only some very good deep red-zone work kept them out of the end zone. Maybe it was the lack of preseason game action or live training camp reps, but the defense just didn’t look ready. After that, wow. Once the Falcons had to throw, the Eagles’ defensive line took over and dominated. After those first two field goals, the Eagles pitched a shutout. The Falcons were 13-for-86 rushing in the first quarter and 11-for-25 the rest of the game. Overall, they netted 178 yards on their first three drives and 69 yards on their next seven drives. That’s incredible, really. Tremendous work by Gannon and his staff.
5. The Eagles did a terrific job defending vaunted rookie Kyle Pitts, who was 4-for-31 in his NFL debut. The Eagles mixed coverages and had a lot of people accounting for Pitts, but even with Marcus Epps leaving the game early with a concussion and Rodney McLeod not available, Pitts was really a non-factor. He had a one-yard catch in the first half and by the time he caught another pass the Eagles were up big. Neutralizing Pitts was huge.
6. One thing 32-6 says is Sirianni’s approach to training camp was the right one. I wasn’t sure how the Eagles would start the season coming off those short, non-contact training camp practices and preseason games without most of the starters. But after a sluggish start, this team was prepared, physical, fundamentally sound and mentally tough. The Eagles got to Atlanta almost completely healthy and it paid off. Sirianni was definitely vindicated.
7. We really saw the youth of this team Sunday and that’s incredibly encouraging. Smith, Jalen Reagor and Kenny Gainwell are all 22 years old and all scored touchdowns. With Smith and Gainwell, this was the first game in Eagles history two players playing in their first NFL game have scored a touchdown, and it’s the first time since three different Eagles 22 or younger have scored in the same game since 2009, when three guys you may have heard of — DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin — scored against the Giants at the Linc. I don’t know if these guys can make that sort of impact, but it’s just nice to have young draft picks shining.
8. We talk all the time about what a legend Jason Kelce is, an all-time Eagles great, maybe a Hall of Famer one day. Sunday we saw it. He’s 33 now and in his 11th season, but man, he was out there crushing people. There was one play, a Sanders catch and run for a first down in the third quarter, that he steamrolled two Falcons and got in the way of another. This was vintage Kelce, using his athleticism and power and leverage to just blast people out of the way. There were points this offseason we weren’t sure he was coming back after the coaching change. Not only did he come back, he’s as good as ever.
9. The Eagles were 0-for-2 on fourth down, but you know what? I like the aggressiveness. The Falcons were a little better on those plays, but I like Sirianni’s confidence both in his offense to convert and the defense to hold on the next possession.
10. One of the reasons the Eagles were able to gain momentum and take control of the game was the punting of Arryn Siposs in his first NFL game. Zech McPhearson downed his first career punt at the 8-yard-line; his second sailed down to the 7 and after a short return the Falcons took over at their 14; and McPhearson downed his third at the 8. All three punts sailed into the same corner. Heck of a debut.