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Monday, September 19, 2011
Wrap-up: Falcons 35, Eagles 31

By Dan Graziano


Some thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' painful 35-31 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta:

What it means: The outcome likely means little, as the Falcons are one of the top teams in the NFC and Atlanta is a nearly impossible place to win. The most significant aspect of this game for the Eagles was the concussion that knocked out quarterback Michael Vick. If he's to miss any significant amount of time, the Eagles' expectations for this season will need to be re-calibrated. Whether it's Vince Young or Mike Kafka who steps in to replace him, he'll still have that wide array of offensive weapons at his disposal. But neither brings the game-changing ability we saw from Vick, who led the Eagles back into the lead with stunning speed after he gave that lead away with turnovers on either side of halftime.

Cruel game: Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin had an all-time game, catching 13 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. And yet, it was his drop of a Kafka pass on fourth down in the final two minutes that likely will stick with him, as a catch there would have extended the game and given the Eagles a chance to win it. The silver lining for Eagles fans is that any and all of last week's doubts about Maclin's health and ability to be a factor in the passing game should now be erased.

Run defense a mixed bag: Atlanta's Michael Turner broke off a couple of nice runs early, but the Eagles' run defense really stiffened up thereafter ... until that last Atlanta scoring drive, on which Turner had the backbreaking 61-yard run that set up his touchdown. The Eagles' defensive linemen -- in particular the outstanding Cullen Jenkins -- look as though they can play the run on their way to the passer, even as they rely on aggressive pressure up the middle. But when they miss -- when they fail to stop the running back before or at the line of scrimmage -- it falls to the linebackers to make the stop, and that's not the Eagles' strength. Rookie middle linebacker Casey Matthews remains a work in progress and has little or no chance one-on-one against a back as powerful as Turner. Fortunately for Matthews, the league has only a handful of those.

Sloppy with the ball: Whenever Vick comes back, whether it's next week, the week after or a month from now, he'll have to be more responsible with the ball. Three fumbles (two lost) and an interception in less than three quarters of a game is just unacceptable, and it cost the Eagles on the scoreboard to which Vick was pointing as he walked off the field. His talent is unquestioned. The thing we're trying to find out about Vick this season is how serious he's going to be about his responsibilities as a quarterback and a leader. He was simply too loose in key spots Sunday night, and that had little to do with the protection he got.

What's next: The Eagles will try to extend their winning streak against the division-rival Giants to seven in their home opener Sunday in Philadelphia.