By ROB MAADDI, AP Pro Football Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Foles could be playing a new position when Carson Wentz comes back if he keeps this up.
Foles caught another pass in a clutch spot to spark a sputtering offense that looked out of sync while the defense picked up right where it left off last time it faced Atlanta.
After seeing their “world champions” banner unveiled, the Philadelphia Eagles took the first step toward trying to become the first team to repeat in 14 years by stopping Matt Ryan to Julio Jones on the final play again in an 18-12 victory over the Falcons on Thursday night.
Foles hardly looked like Super Bowl MVP until coach Doug Pederson called his number in the third quarter when the offense needed a spark. Foles caught a 15-yard pass from Nelson Agholor to extend a drive that ended with Jay Ajayi scoring the first of his two touchdown runs.
“It’s great to have it at the right time if you can catch a team (off guard),” Foles said. “Everybody loves a good trick play.”
Foles caught a 1-yard TD pass from tight end Trey Burton in the first half of Philadelphia’s 41-33 win over New England in the Super Bowl. That play was called “Philly Special” but Foles said “Philly Philly” in the huddle. This one was called “Philly Philly” and Pederson said he borrowed it from New England’s playbook. Tom Brady dropped that pass.
“Offensively, we were sort of misfiring a little bit,” Pederson said. “Just were looking for a big play, somebody to make a play. It felt like the right time.”
If the Eagles need any help at receiver once Wentz is cleared to play after knee surgery last December, Foles is ready to go.
Well, not really.
A sloppy, mistake-filled game that featured 26 penalties came down to Ryan throwing an incomplete pass to Jones in the left corner of the end zone on the final play from Philadelphia’s 5.
Jones couldn’t come down with Ryan’s pass from the 2 in the right corner of the end zone in Atlanta’s 15-10 loss in the divisional round in January.
“It was deja vu,” said cornerback Ronald Darby, who covered Jones on the last play this time around instead of Jalen Mills. “Jones is one of the best but we got the stop.”
A weather delay pushed kickoff back 45 minutes, forcing fans to wait a bit longer for the championship ceremony. Wearing his gold Hall of Fame jacket, former safety Brian Dawkins riled up the sellout crowd with owner Jeffrey Lurie by his side and led a chorus of “Fly Eagles Fly.”
It was the most excitement for a while on a hot, muggy night that seemed more like an August preseason game than a playoff rematch. Both teams looked rusty after many starters didn’t play much in preseason.
Here are some things we learned from the game:
RED ZONE WOES: The Falcons were 1 for 5 in the red zone after struggling inside the opponents’ 20 last year. Second-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian spent plenty of time in the offseason trying to improve the team’s scoring efficiency. Jones only had three TD catches last season. He had 10 receptions for 169 yards but didn’t score.
“It’s never discouraging,” Jones said/ “We just got to keep working, stick together and make plays and get things called down there.”
Jay Ajayi had 62 yards rushing on 15 carries. His 11-yard TD run and 2-point conversion gave the Eagles a lead with 2:25 left. Ajayi ran in from the 1 on the drive Foles made the catch.
“I knew I would have a good day if I just stayed being myself and being the Jay Train,” Ajayi said.
Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks had 1½ sacks in his first game since rupturing his Achilles tendon last October. Hicks also committed a penalty on fourth down that allowed the Falcons to have one more play at the end but the defense bailed him out.
“The ability to get back out there and have fun and celebrate and have passion no matter the play, it feels good,” Hicks said.
Falcons safety Keanu Neal left the game with a knee injury in the first half but coach Dan Quinn said it doesn’t appear serious. Long snapper Josh Harris had his streak of 103 consecutive games played end because of a hip injury.
Wentz, who hasn’t been medically cleared for contact, threw passes and did other drills while wearing a brace on his left knee during warmups.