MISSED CALLS have been a bigger-than-normal part of the NFL conversation this season, and if the Eagles had lost Sunday, one officiating decision in particular would have dominated discussion.
The home team trailed 15-13, facing third-and-12 from the Falcons' 36, a series set up by a 52-yard Kenjon Barner kickoff return. Carson Wentz threw over the middle to Jordan Matthews, very near the first-down marker, but as Matthews reached for the ball, Atlanta safety Keanu Neal leaned in and clocked Matthews in the face with the crown of his helmet.
Somehow, none of the seven officials on Craig Wrolstad's crew saw this, though the Lincoln Financial Field crowd certainly did, live and on a few scoreboard replays, as boos rained down and Eagles coach Doug Pederson took vigorous exception.
Matthews went to the sideline with a bloodied lip and a dented facemask and visor, which he said had to be replaced. Caleb Sturgis then was short on a 55-yard field-goal try that would have given the Eagles the lead.
Pederson said he got no explanation. Matthews said the same.
"They had to change out my whole helmet. I'm just like, 'How is that not called?' I think it's something they definitely have to go back and look at," Matthews said. "He definitely took a shot to my face. It definitely didn't happen by chance. This didn't happen by chance. You definitely want to see them get those calls right. One, because it's a critical point in the game, but also just for player safety . . . Hopefully, they don't miss those again, because that can be extremely dangerous."
Matthews, who caught six passes for 73 yards, said Neal never said anything to him about the hit. He joked that if Neal is fined, "the money should go in my pocket."
Neal said he thought he hit Matthews in the chest, a view not supported by video. His head was down and he didn't see where he made contact.
"Never do I attempt to hit someone in the head," Neal said. "That's just not the type of player I am. I'm not there to play like that."
He said he didn't feel Matthews' facemask hit his helmet.
"You have a lot of adrenaline running, so you don't really feel the helmet," he said. He added that Falcons coach Dan Quinn, the former defensive coordinator in Seattle, which has won praise for its teaching of sound tackling techniques, "always talks about the 'strike zone.' "
It didn't help the mood of the fans or the Eagles that the officials seemed to miss pass interference on Atlanta linebacker Deion Jones against Darren Sproles on the previous snap.