ATLANTA -- Maybe it was first-night jitters. The Philadelphia Eagles had better hope that’s all it was.
After Chip Kelly’s hyperactive offseason, the new-look Eagles made their debut in front of a national TV audience on Monday Night Football. It was not the game Kelly envisioned when he was shaking up his roster back in March.
Three of the cornerstones of his offseason work got off to rough starts. The Eagles rallied in the second half but lost to the Atlanta Falcons 26-24. It was the first season-opening loss of Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia.
"It’s just one of those things that can’t happen," Bradford said. "You have to be careful with the ball when you’re backed up."
The turnover set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Atlanta’s Matt Ryan to Julio Jones. The coverage on the play was by Byron Maxwell, the cornerback who signed a six-year, $63 million contract with the Eagles.
Bradford was better in the second half, leading the Eagles on two long touchdown drives. But he wasn’t able to complete a third drive in the fourth quarter. His last pass sailed through Jordan Matthews’ hands and was intercepted by Ricardo Allen.
"The second half was a blast," Bradford said. "Once we got things rolling and we took the lead, I don’t know if I’ve been that excited in a long time. It’s good to get that feeling. Now maybe next week, we can start a little faster."
Meanwhile, running back DeMarco Murray finished the first half with minus-9 rushing yards. Last season, when he led the NFL in rushing for the Dallas Cowboys, Murray had at least 40 yards rushing in the first half of every game.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso, who was acquired in the LeSean McCoy trade, had mixed results. He made a terrific one-handed interception in the end zone. But just before Jones’ touchdown, a penalty on Alonso negated a Falcons turnover. Linebacker Connor Barwin’s recovery of a Ryan fumble would have given the Eagles possession.
Instead, Ryan found Jones for a quick score.
The rough debut was sobering for Eagles fans who were energized by Kelly’s remodeling of the roster. The team had rolled through its first three preseason games, winning by a combined score of 115-53.
It was hard to imagine the Eagles would be held to just three points in the first half of their season opener. Especially by a Falcons defense that wasn’t very good last season.
"I told those guys it was a tale of two halves," Kelly said. "We played a lot better in the second half."
But the running game that was expected to be the centerpiece of Kelly’s offense never really got going. Kelly called just seven running plays in the first half, while Bradford threw 27 passes. For the game, the Eagles ran the ball 16 times for 63 yards while Bradford threw the ball 52 times.
The Eagles’ uptempo offense really didn’t get into gear until the third quarter. Starting with a first-and-12 play from their own 3-yard line, the Eagles drove the length of the field for a touchdown. Bradford capped it with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Murray.
It was the Eagles’ defense that began the turnaround. Safety Walter Thurmond intercepted a Ryan pass and returned it to the Atlanta 8-yard line. Two plays later, Murray ran around right end for the touchdown.
That got the Eagles back into the game. They briefly took a 24-23 lead but were unable to close the deal.