ATLANTA — In his first game with that big contract, Julio Jones was worth every penny.
Jones hauled in nine passes for 141 yards, including a pair of touchdowns, and the Atlanta Falcons came back after squandering a 17-point halftime lead to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24 Monday night in the coaching debut of Dan Quinn.
“You just trust the preparation, let it rip and have fun,” Quinn said. “That’s what we did.”
He sure enjoyed watching Jones, who was rewarded for the best season of his career with a new $71.25 million contract during the preseason. Showing no signs of complacency, Jones dominated the Eagles’ revamped secondary as the Falcons raced to a 20-3 halftime lead.
The Eagles rallied behind new quarterback Sam Bradford, taking the lead for the first time at 24-23 on Ryan Mathews’ 1-yard run with 8:37 remaining.
Atlanta bounced back, driving into position for Matt Bryant’s fourth field goal of the game, a 47-yarder with 6:27 to go that turned out to be the winner.
Cody Parkey was wide right on a 44-yard field goal that could have restored Philadelphia’s lead. The Eagles had one more chance, but cornerback-turned-safety Ricardo Allen intercepted a pass that went through the hands of Jordan Matthews, sealing the victory with 1:11 left.
“They didn’t want to throw it at my corners so they threw it in the middle of the field,” Allen said. “They tipped the ball and it landed in my lap.”
Matt Ryan shook off a pair of interceptions, including one on the first possession of the second half that turned the momentum in Philadelphia’s favor. He was 23 of 34 for 298 yards.
Bradford, in his first regular-season game in nearly two years and making his debut for the Eagles, was 36 of 52 for 336 yards. But Philadelphia’s much-hyped running game, led by newcomer DeMarco Murray, was largely a bust.
After leading the NFL with more than 1,800 yards rushing in Dallas last season, Murray was held to 9 yards on eight carries. Ryan Mathews had only 4 yards, while Darren Sproles led the way with 50 yards on the ground.
Coach Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense looked unstoppable in the preseason but bogged down in the first half against the fired-up Falcons, who hope the energetic Quinn can turn things around from a 10-22 showing the last two seasons under Mike Smith.
Other than a 69-yard drive that led to a field goal, the Eagles generated just 56 yards on their other seven first-half possessions — three of which went three-and-out, and another ended quickly when Bradford was intercepted. The deficit would have been even bigger if not for Kiko Alonso’s dazzling one-handed interception while falling backward in the end zone.
“We couldn’t get anything going in the first half,” Bradford said.
Jones was unstoppable in the early going, repeatedly burning new Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell. The Falcons receiver hauled in eight passes for 97 yards over the first two quarters, including touchdowns of 4 and 22 yards.
Philadelphia clamped down in the second half, but Jones finally got loose for his only catch after the break — a 44-yarder that set up Bryant’s winning field goal.
Bryant also connected from 41, 39 and 44 yards.
“The big thing that you can take from this win is that we finished,” Bryant said. “Coach Quinn has really emphasized over the preseason about finishing. We did that today.”
It didn’t take long for the Eagles to steal the momentum after halftime.
On the third play, Ryan threw a deep pass down the middle just as he was hit, looking for Roddy White. Walter Thurmond stepped in to make the interception, returning it 23 yards to the Atlanta 8. After an incomplete pass, Murray took off around right end for Philadelphia’s first touchdown of the season.
The Falcons were forced to punt, and the Eagles put together their most impressive drive of the night to that point. Despite four penalties, they went 95 yards in 13 plays, capped off by Bradford’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Murray that sliced Atlanta’s lead to 20-17. The running back hauled in the throw, cut back to leave Kroy Biermann sprawled face-first on the turf, and sauntered into the end zone.
Philadelphia wasn’t done, either.
Bradford guided the Eagles 80 yards in just six plays, including four consecutive completions that went for 24, 12, 21 and 19 yards to the Atlanta 1. Mathews took it in from there, giving Philadelphia its first lead of the game.
“I told the guys at halftime it was a tale of two halves,” Kelly said. “We played a lot better in the second half.”
Not quite good enough.