ATLANTA - It was all there, the breathtaking athleticism and the confounding lack of experience. The Eagles defense made spectacular plays and lost this football game.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel showed what this cornerback depth is all about with two terrific and timely interceptions. But when Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan needed to complete a pass, he was able to find Jamar Chaney and Kurt Coleman trying to cover Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White.
Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins burst through the line of scrimmage and showed what Jim Washburn's defensive line technique is all about. But when the Falcons needed to run the ball, Michael Turner was able to romp right through that line, past the linebackers, and deep into the secondary.
The Eagles defense has exclamation marks at half the positions and question marks at the other half. It is going to make for an interesting season, filled with unforgettable plays and head-slapping frustrations.
It was all there Sunday night in the Eagles' 35-31 loss to Atlanta.
Michael Vick created some problems for his defensive teammates, turning the ball over three times and setting the Falcons up with great field position. The defense couldn't do much about it. Ryan hit Gonzalez in the back of the end zone to take a second-quarter lead, then found him again to build the lead to 11.
But Vick brought the Eagles back. They scored two quick touchdowns and took a 24-21 lead before Vick was knocked out of the game with a concussion on a bizarre play. For all the hits he took in the game, by blitzing linebackers and safeties, it was a collision with teammate Todd Herremans that injured the quarterback.
Vick left after getting the Eagles close again, and backup Mike Kafka simply had to hand off the ball to LeSean McCoy for another TD and a 31-21 lead.
From down 11 to up 10. Vick's homecoming to Atlanta was not exactly the way he'd imagined it, but he gave his team a chance to win. All it would take was for this superstar-laden defense to protect that lead, especially with Kafka seeing his first-ever real action.
The defense couldn't do it.
Worse yet, this was supposed to be what this defense was built for. Down 10, the Falcons were forced to throw the ball more than they would have liked. This was supposed to be when the speed-rushing Babin and Trent Cole could wreak real havoc. This was supposed to be when the pressure on the quarterback led to mistakes and easy picks for the sleek corners.
But no. Ryan and Turner took the Eagles apart in a way that young Sam Bradford was not yet capable of doing last week in St. Louis. He challenged the corners, stretching the field even if most of those attempts were futile. But he did his real damage in the middle of the field, where Chaney, Coleman, Casey Matthews and Jarrad Page gave him plenty of targets.
This was a statement game for Ryan for a number of reasons. He and the Falcons were the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs last year. They got knocked out, but were seen as one of the teams to beat in the conference again this year. Last week, in Chicago, they got humiliated, 30-12. It was an ugly way for the Penn Charter product to start his own season of great expectations.
So now the Falcons open at home against none other than Vick, the man whose downfall led to Ryan being drafted by Atlanta in the first place. In prime time. Everyone would be watching to see which of these QBs could rise to this early-season big occasion.
They both did. But Ryan ultimately prevailed. It was an important win for him as leader of his team.
For the Eagles, it was a blown opportunity to get off to a 2-0 start. They came out of this game banged up with injuries, but mostly with even more questions about their defense. They will have to face some very good quarterbacks this year: Tom Brady, Eli Manning, even Kevin Kolb.
Ryan and the Falcons showed just how vulnerable this defense can be. It wasn't a shock - not with all the changes the Eagles made in the offseason - but it wasn't pretty to look at, either.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.