ATLANTA — Arthur Smith had reason for optimism when his offense ran 29 plays and gained 136 yards on two clock-draining possessions to start his first game as an NFL head coach.
The bad news for the Atlanta Falcons: They were forced to settle for field goals of 21 and 27 yards by Younghoe Koo as the two long series finished short of the end zone.
Even worse news: Those were the team's only points in Sunday's ugly 32-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, whose Nick Sirianni was also making his head coaching debut.
The poor showing by Atlanta's offense was especially disappointing for such new faces as rookie starters Jalen Mayfield and Kyle Pitts.
The No. 4 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, Pitts had a modest four catches for 31 yards. The former Florida Gators standout was targeted eight times in his much anticipated debut and, as expected, looked more like a big, physical wide receiver — such as seven-time Pro Bowl pick Julio Jones, traded to the Tennessee Titans in the offseason — than a tight end when lining up outside.
Pitts had only one catch for 1 yard in the first half. The 6-foot-6, 246-pounder's biggest gain was for 18 yards during the second half, when he was more involved with Atlanta in comeback mode.
"It was great, I had a lot of fun," Pitts said. "My emotions were high and I was vibing."
Matt Ryan, who began his 14th season as Atlanta's starting quarterback, said Pitts "did some good things for the first time" but was hampered by a "choppy" passing game.
Ryan said Pitts had "a really good catch on a seam route and showed he can catch the ball through contact, which is what you want. I think he's only going to continue to get better for us."
Two more newcomers shared the carries. Mike Davis, the former Carolina Panthers backup who is from the Atlanta area, ran for 49 yards. Cordarrelle Patterson, the former University of Tennessee receiver whose NFL career has been more focused on returning kicks, was the surprise rushing leader with 54 yards.
Mayfield, starting at left guard, drew two penalties for false starts in the first half, and he couldn't stop Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave on two fourth-down sacks of Ryan in the second half.
"We've just got to be a lot better," Mayfield said. "I know personally I've got to be a lot better."
Smith, the former Titans offensive coordinator who is calling plays on offense in Atlanta, accepted blame for the poor debut. He said Mayfield and the line protected Ryan in the first half before "self-inflicted wounds" made the offense predictable.
"That would have put heat on anybody at the end of the game when you're down multiple possessions like that," Smith said, adding having rookie starters is "not our excuse. They beat us whether we had a rookie."
Atlanta (4-12 in 2020) and Philadelphia (4-11-1) are both starting over with new coaches, but Sirianni's Eagles outgained the Falcons 434-260 in total yards. Smith tried to take pressure off his players by putting blame on himself.
"I did a really poor job getting us ready to go," Smith said. "I feel awful for our fans. Everybody showed up today. We'll do a better job. That game is not going to define us."
Ryan, 36, was held to only 164 passing yards despite the heavier emphasis on throwing in the second half. It was his eighth-lowest total in a completed game since his 2008 rookie season. He was sacked three times and forced to scramble too often.
"I've played a long time, and I know it's never as good or never as bad," Ryan said. "It's disappointing. You come out and expect yourself to play well and win and just have some things that got off schedule and had some self-inflicted wounds, and when you do that it puts you in a tough spot to overcome."
In this matchup of the NFC's two worst teams from 2020, the Eagles looked to have made far more improvement with a revamped offense led by former University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts and a healthy line in front of him. Philadelphia never scored more than 29 points in a single game last season.
Now firmly entrenched as the starter after Carson Wentz was traded, Hurts certainly looked the part as he completed 27 of 35 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns: 18 yards to Devonta Smith — the Heisman Trophy winner and a national champion at Alabama last season — 9 yards to Dallas Goedert and 23 yards to Jalen Reagor. Hurts also rushed for 64 yards on seven carries and was sacked only once.
"Jalen was in complete control the whole game," Sirianni said. "I'm very happy with the way he played."