ATLANTA – The wrapping came off the 2021 Eagles and what lay beneath sparkled, and it wasn’t just the sun that peaked through the open roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium making it glitter.
It was an offense that saw Jalen Hurts throw three touchdown passes, one each to DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, and Jalen Reagor. It was a defense that didn’t allow a touchdown and a rookie head coach who called a strategic game. And, oh, the special teams, played well, too.
In short, it was a total team effort and it all added up to a 32-6 rout in the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons.
You might even want to throw a bouquet to general manager Howie Roseman for making the dawning of the Nick Sirianni era a success since two of the rookies Roseman drafted scored touchdowns.
Last year, the Eagles were one of two teams to not score at least 30 points, with the other being the New York Jets. That streak ended in just the first game.
First-round pick Smith got the first points of the season with an 18-yard touchdown catch from Hurts with 6:17 to play in the opening quarter to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead on the ensuing drive after Atlanta had taken a 3-0 lead.
“When they called the play, we repped it a lot and I was comfortable with it,” said Smith. “It came down to seeing the coverage we wanted then roll with it and execute the play.”
Fifth-round pick Kenny Gainwell bumped the lead to 22-8 with an 8-yard TD run with 1:25 to go in the third quarter.
It is the first time two rookies scored touchdowns in a season opener in the history of the organization. The Eagles had two rookies in 1947 score touchdowns in Week 2 – Pete Pihos and Neill Armstrong.
“They made some good plays for sure,” said Sirianni about Smith and Gainwell. “To get into the end zone in your first NFL game is pretty cool. I thought Jalen made a great throw to DeVonta, Zach (Ertz) did a good job helping DeVonta open on that play and the offensive line, Kenny didn’t have to do much with his touchdown.
“That why it’s such a great team game. I’m happy for them, but that’s why it’s this awesome game. Zach helped DeVonta get open, Jalen put a great ball on him, offensive line got Kenny in there. I’m happy for them as rookies but really happy with the way the offense played, particularly on those two plays.”
Smith finished with six receptions for 71 yards and a TD. It was the same number of catches that DeSean Jackson made in his rookie debut in 2008. He is the first Eagles WR to have a touchdown on his first NFL catch since Marvin Hargrove on Sept. 16, 1990, against Phoenix. The last Eagles WR to do it on the road was Cris Carter on Nov. 1, 1987, at St. Louis.
On making his first NFL catch being a TD, Smith said: “It really hasn’t hit me yet. I just stayed in the moment knowing I had a task at hand, so it hasn’t hit me yet.”
Gainwell had six carries for 26 yards and two catches for six yards.
Hurts was terrific from the start, completing his first six passes. He finished 27-for-35 with 264 yards and three TDs. His passer rating was 126.4.
The second-year QB also showed some moxie late in the first half when a short TD throw to Kenny Gainwell was nullified when Lane Johnson was called for being illegally downfield.
On the very next play, and with just nine seconds left until halftime, Hurts was unfazed. He rolled to his right, threw across his body, and found a diving Goedert for a 9-yard TD with just two seconds to go in the second quarter.
“It’s good to win, opening day, all the hard work we put in, all the different changes we’ve endured and had to overcome with new coaching, new values as a football team, and buying into it, then coming out here Week 1 and starting off the right well is good,” said Hurts.
After the Goedert score, the Falcons lined up illegally on the PAT and Sirianni opted to go for two points. Miles Sanders ran it in to account for the halftime margin.
Sanders finished with 74 yards on 15 runs and four catches for 39 yards. The two-point conversion gave the Eagles a 15-6 lead at the intermission.
“This feels real good,” said Sanders. “I loved the energy. I love the chemistry we have going on. This feels like a real family in there, so real excited.”
The Reagor TD came from 23 yards on a bubble screen. He had six catches for 49 yards. The touchdown required a punishing block from Jordan Mailata to spring Reagor for the end zone.
“Just doing my job,” said Mailata, who signed a $64 million contract extension about 24 hours before kickoff, on the key block. “It’s a process. Every play, but the timing has to be perfect and for me, it was just knowing the snap count first then knowing the timing of the screen then bee-lining it and burying someone if you get the opportunity.”
The defense, which had been stung on the ground in the first half, allowing 110 yards on 19 Falcons runs, buckled down in the second half, allowing only one yard.
They shut out the Falcons in the second half and posted three sacks, two from Javon Hargrave and one from Hassan Ridgeway, who was called twice for holding in the first half.
In the first half, the defense bent but did not break, allowing the Falcons into the red zone twice but making them settle for field goals.
“This definitely feels great, especially to come out with a win,” said Hargrave. “Anytime you can come out and get a win, it’s a good feeling going back home.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.