Defense, defense and more defense allowed Atlanta to hang on for a 14-10 victory Monday night over Philadelphia that gave the Falcons a wonderful start to 2005.
"Our fans were unbelievable," head coach Jim Mora said. "They were with us until the end. We feed off the energy our crowd provides. We played a good, solid game. There are a lot of things we can do better, but that comes with playing the first game."
Holding off the defending NFC champion Eagles, whose 31-9 road record over the last five seasons led the entire league, was impressive given that Philadelphia is one of only five teams in league history to record three straight seasons of 12 wins.
Atlanta also exacted some revenge it felt after suffering a 27-10 loss eight months ago on the Eagles' frozen home field.
Coleman, a standout defensive tackle who last year had 11.5 sacks to rank second among NFL interior linemen, proved too powerful for Philadelphia left guard Artis Hicks as the Eagles faced fourth-and-10 on the final meaningful snap of the game Monday night.
Coleman pushed Hicks out of the way quickly enough to get a running start at quarterback Donovan McNabb. Creaming McNabb on his back on the Georgia Dome turf, Coleman only had to turn and celebrate as the quarterback's pass to Terrell Owens fell well short of his star receiver near the right sideline.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall, as he had done all night, was covering Owens tight enough to prevent a big gain. Owens, an All-Pro selection last season, finished with 112 yards receiving on seven catches. McNabb was 24-for-45 passing, giving him 257 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"Handling this victory is almost as important as winning the game itself," Mora said. "I'm really proud of our defense and the way they held on."
Warrick Dunn paid big dividends in the running game as he gained 117 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback Michael Vick, who playfully jumped over the goal line for a 7-yard touchdown run gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead, ran 11 times for 68 yards. He completed just 12 of 23 passing for 156 yards and one interception.
The Falcons were held scoreless after T.J. Duckett's 1-yard touchdown run gave them a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. They made the most of the situation, however, as the teams traded possessions throughout the second half.
Atlanta, which led the NFL in rushing last season for the first time in franchise history, outgained the Eagles 200-51 on the ground.
Philadelphia's defense cut the Falcons no slack, particularly All-Pro free safety Brian Dawkins, who briefly took control of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
Returning from the locker room after hamstring cramps caused him to take intravenous fluids in the third quarter, Dawkins continued to make big plays on the Monday night stage.
The Falcons led 14-7 as they stood second-and-15 at the Eagles' 15 with 13:25 remaining after T.J. Duckett's 5-yard touchdown run was nullified by center Todd McClure's holding penalty.
Dawkins wasted no time. Preventing a touchdown on the next snap, the former Clemson standout knocked down Vick's pass to Alge Crumpler near the front right pylon. Dawkins blitzed from the opposite side on the following play and hit Vick so hard on the sack that lost six yards that the ball popped out and Michael Lewis fell on it for the Eagles.
The Falcons benefited from two missed 49-yard field-goal attempts by David Akers, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, but the Philadelphia placekicker connected on his third try, a 44-yarder, that cut the lead to 14-10 with 3:54 remaining.
Vick scrambled off a 29-yard run up the middle before he slid to a stop in front of Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard at the Atlanta 40. The drive fell short, however, when Duckett didn't have enough room to convert a third-and-one and was stopped for no gain.
Rookie Michael Koenen booted a weak 27-yard punt that went out of bounds and gave the Eagles possession at their 24.
Atlanta entered 6-18 on Monday Night Football, the worst record in the NFL, and the Falcons had lost four straight on the league's premier television affair.
McNabb, likely still feeling the effects of the hard hit he took in the first quarter from Brady Smith and Chad Lavalais, completed just one of his final 10 pass attempts.
The Falcons survived despite losing two of three fumbles and blowing their big chance in the red zone late in the game.
Philadelphia also fumbled three times, losing two of them. Neither team moved the ball consistently. Atlanta was 3-for-15 on third-down attempts and the Eagles 3-for-12.
The biggest play of the game, however, was the blown fourth-down attempt that sealed the victory for the Falcons.
Westbrook's 9-yard touchdown pass from McNabb made it 14-7 late in the second quarter.