The New England Patriots don’t have to worry about the Giants this time going after one of their accomplishments. The last team to repeat as Super Bowl champions will have their consecutive titles from 2005 and 2006 stand at least for one more season following an upset 23-11 win by the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC Divisional game.
Having home field throughout the playoffs by being the number one seed in the conference, the Giants were unable to take advantage of that and had a lackluster performance in the most important game of the season. The Eagles, who needed everything to break right for them to even qualify for the postseason in Week 17, came into Giants Stadium and let the Giants stop their running game. They just took it to the air and were able to beat the defending champions with the right arm and feet of quarterback Donovan McNabb.
A staunch Eagles defense were able to hold the Giants by stopping them twice on fourth down and holding them to only three of 13 conversions on third down. That, coupled with two missed field goals (46 and 47 yards) by John Carney, opened the door for McNabb, who was for all intents and purposes run out of town in Week 12, being benched at halftime in a blowout loss in Baltimore that dropped the team’s record to 5-5-1.
It has all been uphill for the Syracuse product since then, including a win in Minnesota in the wild card round. As many times that McNabb took advantage of opportunities in this game, the Giants did the exact opposite.
Even a 65-yard return by Ahmad Bradshaw on the opening kickoff only resulted in three points for the Giants. That was followed by the first of two Eli Manning interceptions, which set up the Eagles first touchdown on a one-yard sneak by McNabb for a 7-3 lead.
The Giants cut into that when Justin Tuck rushed McNabb and he committed an intentional grounding penalty while in his own end zone. The safety made the score 7-5, and Carney hit another field goal to give Big Blue a slim one-point lead with 1:38 left in the first half.
Perhaps the Eagles’ next drive set the tone for the rest of the game. McNabb drove them down the field to the Giants’ 7-yard line before having to settle for a 25-yard David Akers field goal. Heading into the locker room with a 10-8 lead meant a lot for a team that had only 34 yards of total offense before the two-minute drive.
“I think it played a big role as far as knowing what we needed to do to change,” McNabb said.
The teams traded field goals in the third quarter before Philadelphia went on a 10-play, 63-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 20-11 lead.
A questionable decision by Giant head coach Tom Coughlin came when running back Derrick Ward was stopped short in third down and three. Coughlin challenged the spot even though it was clear from replays that the spot was indeed accurate. The Giants lost the challenge and a time out, and compounded the problem when Manning was stuffed on fourth and one. The Eagles – who will face the Cardinals in Arizona next week in the NFC Championship Game – had the play read and Manning barely bent down low enough to even have a chance.
“We did tell Eli he might have to go out in the B gap rather than the A gap because you know they would be in the A gap.”
The Giants defense stopped the Eagles and gave the offense the ball back with just over 10 minutes remaining. Once again, running up the middle did not work and the Giants turned the ball over on downs following running back Brandon Jacobs attempt on fourth down and two.
Another interception by Manning and a fumble by wideout Steve Smith took away any hope for the Giants, who lost four of five after starting the season 11-1. “I think we are very disappointed,” Coughlin said. “Very, very sorry to see the season come to an end. Lots of remorse for opportunities lost.”
Too many to overcome on a day that the opponent didn’t have the same problem.