On the Field: Jackson helped Eagles beat Falcons even after leaving game
On the official game summary, the biggest play in Sunday's game began with 6 minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter. But in reality, it had started far earlier.
It went back to the first quarter when Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson ran an end around to the left for a 31-yard touchdown, and later that quarter when he took a handoff in the same direction for 13 yards.
Now Jackson was out of the game, but not, apparently, out of the Falcons' memory.
With the Eagles holding a 21-10 lead but having given up two consecutive scoring drives, quarterback Kevin Kolb and company were backed up on their own 17-yard line, facing second and 13.
Things were about to change. Fast.
Kolb faked a handoff up the middle to running back LeSean McCoy, then offered another fake to wide receiver Jason Avant - who, like Jackson earlier, was running from the right side of the formation toward the left to give the appearance of another end around. Avant doesn't present the same kind of threat as Jackson, but the fakes worked.
"We kind of caught them sleeping a little bit," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
On the feint to Avant, cornerback Christopher Owens, who was supposed to be covering Maclin, jumped up to stop the run. Owens, a second-year player, was in the game only because the Falcons' starter, Dunta Robinson, had been hurt on the same violent collision that had sidelined Jackson.
Owens' misstep left safety Thomas DeCoud to cover Maclin one on one on the left side of the field. Except DeCoud was also out of position; he had hesitated on the run fake to McCoy.
"When the corner comes down and bites on me, what happens is now it's just Jeremy and the safety," Avant said. "The play-action fake is always going to move the safety just an inch, and he moved more than that. We knew that if the safety would bite on it that we would have a chance."
But didn't the speedy Jackson usually run the fake end around?
"Yeah," Avant said with a sheepish smile, "but it worked."
With Maclin wide open, Kolb uncorked a throw that traveled from around the Eagles' 10-yard line to just inside the Falcons' 45. Maclin ran away from the beaten DeCoud, and the Eagles were up, 28-10, and running away with the game.
"We were in coverage that should not have the ball thrown over our head, and the ball was thrown over our head," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. He later added, "It was a big backbreaker."
The big play, though, wouldn't have been as decisive if not for the defense's performance on the previous drive.
After going up by 21-0, the Eagles had been knocked back on their heels. The Falcons had intercepted Kolb and scored a touchdown to end the first half. Now, early in the third quarter, Atlanta had converted a fourth and 2 to set themselves up with a first down at the Eagles' 9, and you could sense momentum starting a tilt toward the Falcons. They were 9 yards from rapidly clawing to within one touchdown.
"They had the momentum, and you never know what play is going to make the difference," said safety Quintin Mikell.
In this case, it was several plays.
On first down from the 9, defensive tackle Antonio Dixon bulled his way into the Atlanta backfield, cutting off a Michael Turner run. Defensive end Trent Cole swooped in to clean up the mess, dropping Turner for a 3-yard loss.
Two more plays netted just 5 yards, and suddenly what looked like a big fourth-down conversion had resulted in only a shorter field goal. What might have been a 21-14 game was still a relatively comfortable 21-10 Eagles lead. Smith cited the failure to score after converting the fourth down as a significant part of the agony of the sequence.
Mikell cited it as a significant step toward reclaiming control.
"If they score [a touchdown] there, it's a different game," Mikell said.
Instead it was three points for the Falcons and a big seven-point answer for the Eagles.
Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.