PHILADELPHIA -- About a half hour before kickoff, with the NFL's season opener delayed by a thunderstorm, one of the team officials who was killing time in the press box mused aloud, "I hope this isn't an omen."
Thirty game minutes, three field goals, 16 penalty flags and a seeming eternity later, Eagles fans provided an answer for at least half of the audience. They booed their team off the field at halftime of the game that began with a giant mock Lombardi Trophy being wheeled onto the field for a "celebration moment."
The Eagles beat the visiting Falcons, 18-12, but as he walked into the locker room, coach Doug Pederson looked more relieved than ebullient, shaking his head with a smile and letting out a long exhale. The details were unsightly for everybody. Philadelphia had zero total yards in the first quarter. Atlanta was stuffed repeatedly in the red zone. The officiating crew represented the most dominant people on the field. And two teams favored to make deep playoffs runs -- the last two NFC champions -- appeared to have never exited the preseason.
Then Pederson tapped into a bit of nostalgia and jolted the season awake.
Midway through the third quarter of the snoozer, on third-and-five, he called up the play that harkened back to a part of Super Bowl lore, the reverse and pass to Nick Foles that was reminiscent of "Philly Special." This play -- they called it "Philly Philly" -- came with the wrinkle that Pederson actually swiped the design from the Patriots, who saw it end in a Tom Brady drop in the Super Bowl. ("Yeah, that's where we got it from," Pederson acknowledged.) A trick play will always be super special to Philly, though -- then and now -- and this game may have needed it even more than the Super Bowl did. The Eagles converted the third down and finally got into the end zone, the first touchdown for the first-team offense since the preseason began.
"Just looking for somebody to make a play," Pederson said. "Just felt like the right time to make the call."
From there, the game was placed mostly in the hands of the Eagles' defense -- and if that sounds familiar, well, it worked this past winter, too. Pederson made the case that this is what the Eagles need early in the season, until the offense gets on track. In an ending that was strikingly reminiscent of last season's Divisional Round playoff game, the Eagles stopped the Falcons repeatedly from inside the 20-yard line -- in five trips to the red zone, the Falcons got just one touchdown Thursday night -- a final sequence that is likely to haunt the Falcons, and rain questions on Steve Sarkisian's head, until they get it fixed. They haven't yet.
It is always tempting to draw broad conclusions from the first game of the season and sometimes those conclusions are wrong. Remember how the Patriots were on the decline after they got crushed by the Chiefs in the season opener last year? But the takeaways from this one are especially problematic for the Falcons, who are in a difficult division and were supposed to hit the ground running. Sarkisian had all offseason to analyze his play-calling near the goal line and somehow it didn't improve. Early in the game, it did not even include Julio Jones. Matt Ryan threw so poorly -- he was 1 for 8 with an interception in the red zone -- and seemed to lack some of his mobility, to the point where it is fair to wonder if he was not fully healthy.
For the Eagles, though, this was an escape they'll take. The team is not fully whole and won't be until Carson Wentz returns. Aside from the outcome and the resounding return of the defense, the biggest bright spot for Philly might have been Wentz's extensive pregame throwing session. He threw short- and intermediate-length passes all over the field, showing that his arm is still strong, his passes still crisp, his touch still deft. His repaired left knee did not appear to have significantly impacted his mobility if a series of rollouts is any indication. Wentz, in fact, provided the best snippet of passing by any quarterback in the building.
And that means that as giddy as the past made the Eagles in their abbreviated pregame ceremony, this season is promising again, too. There are reminders of the Super Bowl everywhere at Lincoln Financial Field -- round a corner on the way to the locker room and run into an enormous Super Bowl logo, and there's another one illuminated at the very top of the stadium.
The best reminders, though, came not from a scripted party, but from a nearly unwatchable game, from a defense that picked up where it left off, from a quarterback so close to being ready to resume the long trip he took his team on last season.