ATLANTA - The NFL season is barely a month old, but it may be over for the Atlanta Falcons.
In a performance that could mark the beginning of the end of the June Jones coaching era, the Falcons fell to 0-3 Sunday night with a 33-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in a TNT nationally televised game at the Georgia Dome.
Bobby Hebert, who replaced struggling Jeff George in the third quarter, pulled the Falcons to within eight points with 4:11 left with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Terance Mathis and two-point conversion.
But former Clemson star Derrick Witherspoon put the game away by returning the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
An Atlanta team coming off a playoff berth and expected to contend for the NFC West title now faces the possibility of starting the season with seven straight losses. The next month brings road games against San Francisco, Detroit and Dallas and a home game against Houston.
Philadelphia (3-1) also scored on two touchdowns by Ricky Watters and four field goals by Gary Anderson. A 56-yard punt return by Mark Seay set up one field goal, and a 56-yard pass from Rodney Peete to rookie tight end Jason Dunn set up a touchdown.
Anderson kicked a 28-yard field goal on the second-to-last play of the first quarter to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead. Peete drove his team 46 yards, hitting Watters for 15 yards when linebacker Ron George blitzed and Chris T. Jones for seven on a third-and-2 from the Atlanta 31. Cornelius Bennett was flagged for hitting Peete late on the latter play, moving the ball to the 12.
Watters scored on a two-yard run to make it 10-0 with 10:50 left in the half. Dunn set up the touchdown by catching a short pass over the middle and racing 58 yards to the 17, where safety Patrick Bates dove to bring him down.
A similar defensive lapse set up Anderson's second field goal, a 33-yarder that put Philadelphia up 13-0. The Falcons blitzed, and Peete hit fullback Kevin Turner for a 34-yard gain to the Atlanta 36.
The Falcons had only one first down and 58 yards to this point in the game, but suddenly exploded with a two-play, 90-yard scoring drive. Eric Metcalf caught a short pass from George, reversed his field and raced 67 yards to the Eagles' 23. George then fired a TD strike to Bert Emanuel, who beat Troy Vincent with a crisp post pattern.
Morten Andersen kicked a 43-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the half to cut the Eagles' lead to 13-10.
The Falcons had the momentum coming into the second half, but gave it back quickly with a 23-yard loss on a botched pass behind the line of scrimmage to Mathis.
The game then turned with a 56-yard touchdown run by Watters, who broke through the line of scrimmage on a handoff up the middle and outran his pursuers.
George, who was intercepted by Vincent on Atlanta's first possession of the game, was picked off for a second time by linebacker Williams Thomas midway through the third quarter. That spelled George's night. Hebert began warming up on the sideline, eliciting the biggest cheer of the night, and went in on the next series.
But Hebert, the hero of the Christmas Eve upset over San Francisco that got the Falcons into the playoffs last year, struggled himself, throwing two interceptions. After completing three of his first four passes, Hebert forced a pass into coverage and was picked off by Thomas, who returned the theft 37 yards to the Atlanta 32.
Hebert drove the Falcons to the 12 midway through the final period, but his fourth-and-3 pass was batted down by Thomas. He threw his TD pass to Mathis on the Falcons' next possession, but after Witherspoon's return, he was picked off again by Brian Dawkins, the rookie from Clemson.
The Falcons now head to San Francisco, where they haven't won since 1991 and have been outscored in the last four matchups by an average score of 46-18.
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