ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Falcons finally showed they could beat the Philadelphia Eagles, but it was merely a season opener. No Super Bowl at stake in this one.
Maybe that will come toward the end of the season.
"We know we're going to see this team again," Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, savoring a 14-10 victory Monday night but already looking ahead to another shot at the Eagles in the playoffs.
Clearly, this has the look of an increasingly bitter rivalry.
The players were throwing punches before the game even started, then went toe-to-toe for 60 minutes. Michael Vick ran for one touchdown, set up another with a long pass, then turned things over to a defense that kept Philadelphia from coming all the way back.
"We take our hats off to them," Eagles linebacker Keith Adams said. "Hey, you take it like a man."
Besides, one regular-season victory doesn't make up for two playoff losses. In 2003, Philadelphia knocked out the Falcons in the divisional round. Last January, the Eagles beat Atlanta 27-10 in the NFC championship game.
But the Falcons feel they are finally ready to challenge the conference's undisputed powerhouse.
"They thought they were going to bully us around," Falcons newcomer Ed Hartwell said. "Hey, we're not going to be bullied."
That was evident about a half-hour before the kickoff. The teams started jawing in warmups, a scuffle broke out and punches were thrown. When it was all sorted out, Philadelphia's Jeremiah Trotter and Atlanta's Kevin Mathis had been ejected.
The tone was set for the rest of the night.
The Eagles fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter, then shut out Vick the rest of the way. But their comeback was turned back when Donovan McNabb took a vicious hit from Rod Coleman on a fourth-down pass, the ball dropping far short of Terrell Owens streaking down the sideline with 1:33 remaining.
"I think we proved our point," said Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who matched up with T.O. most of the night.
The pregame shenanigans definitely worked out better for the Falcons. Mathis is a bit player, used mainly in passing situations, while Trotter is a three-time Pro Bowler who anchors the middle of the Philadelphia defense.
"He threw a punch and I tried to block it," Trotter said. "We were just trash talking. I don't think anyone should have been ejected."
Mike Labinjo, who got in only three games last season as a rookie, made his first career start in place of Trotter. The Falcons took advantage, rushing for 200 yards.
Warrick Dunn led the way with 113 yards on 20 carries.
Atlanta raced to a two-touchdown lead before the game was 15 minutes old. Vick hooked up with Michael Jenkins and Alge Crumpler on a pair of 18-yard passes, then finished off the drive with a 7-yard scoring run.
The electrifying quarterback got free around right end, holding the ball aloft at the 5 and leaping joyfully over the goal line.
The Falcons scored again less than 3 minutes later. Vick lofted a 58-yard pass to Jenkins, who hauled it in just short of the end zone. T.J. Duckett bulled over from the 1 on the next play.
Vick struggled the rest of the way, throwing an interception and losing two fumbles. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 156 yards, but did manage 68 yards rushing.