It was supposed to be divisional showdown, a well-played game between two of the better teams in the NFC, with identical records, competing for first place, before a national television audience on Sunday Night Football.
Instead, the New York Giants (6-4) and Philadelphia Eagles (7-3) played a sloppy, ugly game in Philadelphia, in a contest marred by turnovers, penalties, and other mistakes.
In the end, it was the Eagles who beat themselves a little less than the Giants hurt their own chances, in a 27-17 Eagles’ victory that gave Philadelphia temporary supremacy in the NFC East.
After missing golden opportunities to have a bigger lead in the first half, the Eagles let a 16-3 third-quarter lead get away before scoring the game’s final ten points in the last 4:25.
For the most part, the Eagles kept the Giants from doing much offensively in the first half.
New York struggled to move the ball in the opening half without injured wide receiver Steve Smith, the Giants’ second leading receiver.
Other than one 14-play, 74-yard drive, spanning the opening two quarters, which resulted in a 24-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes, the Giants gained a total of just 18 yards on five other first-half possessions, while punting three times and committing turnovers on consecutive second-quarter drives.
The Eagles meanwhile, grabbed a 13-3 halftime lead, but they could have been up 24-3 by then.
A 13-play, 68-yard drive in 7:09 culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by quarterback Michael Vick (11 carries, 34 yards, 1 TD), to put the Eagles ahead, 7-0, in the first quarter.
Leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Eagles’ cornerback back Asante Samuel recovered a fumble by running back Ahmad Bradshaw, one of the league’s top rushers, who was held to just 29 yards on 12 rushes, including just 12 yards on 11 of those carries.
Philadelphia took over at the New York 23 yard-line, but moved only three yards and settled for a 38-yard field goal by kicker David Akers, to lead 10-3.
Two plays later, Samuel, who while with New England, dropped what could have been a championship-clinching pick on a pass from Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning in New York’s Super bowl XLII victory, intercepted Manning and returned the ball ten yards to the Giants’ 13 yard-line.
But again, the Giants’ bent but didn’t break, holding the Eagles to an Akers 24-yard field goal with a little luck on their side in the form of a seemingly sure touchdown pass being dropped by Philadelphia wide receiver Jason Avant (2 catches, 39 yards), who was all alone in the back of the end zone.
Later, the Eagles drove 56 yards in 1:43, to the Giants’ 24 yard-line, but had a 42-yard field goal attempt by Akers blocked on the final play of the half.
The third quarter began with Philadelphia playing keep-away from New York. The Eagles took the opening possession of the third quarter on a long 14-play, 76-yard drive that consumed 8:15. That jaunt resulted in a 28-yard field goal by Akers, to put the Eagles up 16-3, with 6:38 left in the third quarter, before the Giants could touch the ball in the period.
When New York did finally gain possession however, things started to click offensively, as Manning (20-33, 147 yards, 2 TS, 3 INT, 0 sacks) completed his first nine pass attempts of the second half, including seven on a 9-play, 68-yard drive in 6:05, that ended with a 2-yard scoring toss to tight end Travis Beckum (his only catch), to get the Giants to within 16-10 heading into the final period.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, defensive end Justin Tuck sacked Vick (24-38, 258 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 3 sacks) and forced a fumble which defensive tackle Barry Cofield recovered at the Eagles’ 27 yard-line.
It was one of several fumbles in the game, as each team coughed the ball up four times, losing two fumbles.
The Giants quickly took advantage of that one. Manning, rolling right and throwing left, then completed a nice pass to running back Brandon Jacobs (his only catch, while being held to 10 yards on 5 carries) for 22 yards to the Eagles’ 5 yard-line.
One play later, Manning threw a five-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derek Hagan (3 catches, 10 yards, as one of Smith’s replacements), to give New York its only lead, 17-16, with 13:35 left in the game.
The teams then traded punts. A holding penalty (one of ten, for 119 yards) by Philadelphia on the Giants’ punt, backed the Eagles up to their own 10 yard-line.
Vick completed a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (game-high of 9 catches and 120 yards) to get the Eagles out of a hole, to their own 41 yard-line.
The Giants were then prepared to force the Eagles into a 4th-and 6 from the Philadelphia 45 yard-line, but a costly offsides penalty (one of 6 for 54 yards for New York) on what should have been 3rd-and-6, made it 3rd-and-1. That turned into 4th-and-1, setting the stage for the game-winning score to come.
With two time outs and the two-minute warning still remaining, the Eagles opted to go for the first down, and capitalized on a some earlier game film preparation.
Philadelphia normally only has one call – a quarterback sneak – on such situations, but the were ready to run a play called 39 Toss Crack if they saw the Giants in Zero Blitz (no safety help over the top) coverage, which the Giants showed.
Seeing New York line up that way, Vick, who nearly lost the snap pulling away from center, turned and pitched to running back LeSean McCoy (14 carries, game-high 114 yards, 1 TD) just barely getting the ball by the hand of defensive end Osi Umenyiora, to McCoy, who took the pitch for 50-yard touchdown, to put the Eagles ahead to stay, 22-17, with 4:25 left. Vick completed to Avant for a two-point conversion to extend the lead to 24-17.
On the next play, Samuel got even with Manning for Super Bowl XLVII again, with another interception, but Bradshaw made a great, hustling tackle to force a fumble which was recovered by center Rich Seubert.
Manning then appeared to keep the Giants’ hopes alive, with a 16-yard scramble on 4th-and-6, but he caused his own fumble when he hit the ground and the ball popped loose before he was touched down.
The Eagles recovered at their own 40 yard-line and converted that turnover into a game-icing 30-yard field goal by Akers with 22 seconds remaining.
The Giants, who have yet to play a turnover-free game this season while committing 27 turnovers on the season, lost the ball five times on Sunday, while amassing only 11 first downs and 208 total yards (201.8 yards below their average).
After finishing the first half of the season on a five-game winning streak, with a 6-2 record, while looking like the team to beat in their conference, the Giants suddenly look eerily like last year’s team that began with a dominant 5-0 start before closing 3-8 and missing the playoffs.
They now have their work cut out for them to make the playoffs this year, after falling into second place in the NFC East, with plenty of competition for the two NFC wild-card berths.
Five other teams outside of the Giants’ division now have better records than the Giants. Two of those will be likely division winners in the NFC North and NFC South, meaning the other three, along with perhaps, 5-5 Washington, will all be in contention with New York for the NFC’s two wild-card spots, should the Giants not be able to overtake the Eagles in the final six weeks of the regular season.
Making things more challenging for New York, first-place Jacksonville (6-4), the Giants’ last of four AFC South opponents this year, visits the New Meadowlands stadium on Sunday, at 1pm EST, riding a three-game win streak.