By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Heartbreaker: Eagles Fall To Giants
PHILADELPHIA — I was at Lincoln Financial Field to experience a NFC East rivalry game between the desperate for a win Philadelphia Eagles and the hated New York Giants. I was also joined at the game by a sellout crowd of 68,954 rabid Eagles fans.
Pregame Notes: New York Giants (8-4) at the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) – Plain and simple the Eagles’ season is on the line as they host their hated rival the New York Giants. The Giants have a good record, but questions linger about whether they are poised for a second half swoon similar to the past three seasons.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb (195-326, 2,329 yards, 13 TDs, and 6 INTs) will be back for this must-win game and it maybe the last time the home crowd sees him at Lincoln Financial field as an Eagle. The Giants have their own quarterback woes to deal with as Eli Manning has 17 touchdowns to go along with 17 interceptions and was described as “skittish” by Giants GM Jerry Reese. The Eagles record at home is a surprising 2-4, so they need to show they can still get it done in front of their boo-bird fans. The lead the all-time series 77-66-2 and have won four of the last five.
First Quarter: Eagles 7 – Giants 0, This quarter opened with the Eagles getting the ball at their own 32 yard line and marching the next 68 yards on a good mixture of running and passing plays. Donovan McNabb came into the game with something to prove and it was evident on the first drive as he hit Reggie Brown twice and ended the drive with an eighteen yard touchdown pass to Brian Westbrook off a great play-action bootleg.
Speaking of Westbrook, he ran the ball three times for 30 yards on the drive and provided a clear spark to the Birds. The Giants and Eagles continued to trade punts sandwiched around a big sack by Trent Cole and crazy double reverse pass by Eagles WR Greg Lewis that was lucky not to be intercepted. Near the end of the first quarter, the Giant went on a drive that would culminate in points in the second quarter.
Second Quarter: Eagles 7 – Giants 6, This quarter began with the Giants having possession and they went on an 84-yard, 13 play drive that ended with a Lawrence Tynes 19 yard field goal. The Giants seemed on their way to tying the game on a big run by Reuben Droughns of 35 yards, but the big back was tackled emphatically by veteran Eagles safety Brian Dawkins at the Bird’s one-yard line. From there the Eagles defense stiffened before the Tynes field goal. After the short field goal the teams traded punts including a Sav Rocca 59-yard bomb.
Right before the half, Big Blue put up three more points as Tynes kicked a 23-yard field goal ending a 45-yard drive. At the half the Eagles went into the locker-room feeling good that they had held the Giants, but they only had 7 first downs to the Giants 10, were only 1 of 6 on third downs, and had four penalties. I did like Westbrook’s numbers of 44 yards rushing with a 5.5 ypc and 4 receptions for 36 yards. McNabb had modest numbers of 9-13 for 75 yards and 1 TD with 4 rushing yards.
Third Quarter: Eagles 10 – Giants 16, This quarter seemed like it was off to a good start as Brandon Jacobs fumbled after a reception at his eight-yard line. The fumble was gobbled up by DT Mike Patterson, but the Birds proceeded to lose yardage on a McNabb sack by Umenyiora and there was a crucial false start penalty by Todd Herremans. The Eagles settled for a 29-yard Akers field goal and an unfulfilling lead of 10-6. After exchanging more punters a crucial play happened late in the third quarter when the usually sure handed Brian Westbrook fumbled after a two yard catch. DE Justin Tuck forced the fumble and CB Sam Madison recovered it.
The Giants capitalized on the play as their nemesis Plaxico Burress catch a 20 yard Eli Manning strike over the middle giving the Giants a 13-10 lead. Before Burress’ vital touchdown there was a key fumble/non-fumble as Amani Toomer made a reception rolled on the ground and then appeared to fumble. He was ruled down by contact, but Andy Reid felt compelled to challenge (upheld) costing the Eagles a crucial timeout. After the Eagles punted again after another three and out, the Giants scored on another Tynes kick (23-yard FG). With the Giants leading 16-10 and having the momentum the teams went to crucial fourth quarter.
Fourth Quarter: This quarter was dominated by the Giants as they continued their drive towards the playoffs. The Eagles seemed to understand the desperation of their season slipping away as they came out riding Brian Westbrook into Giants territory. B-West runs of 21 yards, 4 yards, no-gain, no-gain, and three yards. However McNabb was sacked by Jay Alford as no one could seemingly get open. The drive ended with another Akers field goal (39) as the Birds tried to inch closer at 16-13 Giants.
The Giants looked like they were going to cement the game away when Brandon Jacobs catch a short pass and broke tackle after tackle down to the Birds five yard line, but the 21 yard catch and run was for naught as Eagles DE Juqua Thomas hit him from behind and then fell on the fumble. Sensing that they received a gift the Eagles drove to midfield, but stalled once again. With their season on the line a fourth and one play after the two minute warning that typified their season. McNabb dropped back fired a strike over the middle to WR Jason Avant, but he was clearly hit before the ball got there by Giants LB Antonio Pierce. To the chagrin of the Eagles team and their faithful there was no pass interference call.
The Bird limped to the sidelines as their fans lamented about a call that would never come in a season where the Birds always seemed to always find a way to not get it done. The Giants went conservative from there running Jacobs three times while the Eagles burned their final two timeouts, before a Feagles punt. The Eagles had one last chance with 53 seconds left after key returner Westbrook was pinned against the sidelines on an eight-yard return. McNabb began the drive by hitting Brown to the right, Greg Lewis over the middle for 18 yards (tick, tick, tick) and then a spike to stop the clock with 26 seconds left. With 12 seconds on the clock from the Giants 49, McNabb hit Brown along the sideline for 13 yards leaving six seconds on the clock.
Reid sensing that another play would not do sent in his usually reliable kicker Akers for a long 57-yard kick. The crowd rose with anticipation and as Akers’ kick seemed like it was go through the uprights, it hit the right upright and bounced onto the field. The play showed that the ball has never really “bounced” the right way for the Eagles all year. The Eagles finished with bad numbers of 2-13 on third downs and 7 penalties, but they also had only one turnover and a dominated the time of possession 32:29 to the Giants 27:31.
All the numbers didn’t matter as the Birds failed to put enough points on the board when it mattered most. In his return from a two game layoff (ankle and thumb), Donovan McNabb was 20/30 for 179 yards and one touchdown. He was not great, but I know fans will somehow make him the only reason why the Birds lost. McNabb said after the game, “It’s really frustrating”. He added “It’s a collection of things at the wrong time that keeps leading to us getting field goals instead of touchdowns.”
Brian Westbrook was the team’s only offensive threat contributing 116 yards rushing and 38 yards in receptions. The mercurial back from Villanova also passed 1,000 yards rushing for the second year in a row (1,110 yards), which made him the first player to do so since RB Duce Staley in 1998 and 1999. Staley by the way was honored at halftime as he retired as an Eagle.
Final Analysis: Giants 16 – Eagles 13 — This game showed how the Eagles have been a “shoulda woulda coulda” team all season. They were close throughout the game producing turnovers and stopping the Giants at key times, but they always had victory slip through their hands when it mattered most. The Giants are not a great team, but they found ways to win when the game was on the line while the Eagles didn’t do enough.
That statement was especially true for Giants QB Eli Manning, who was only 17 for 31 with a modest 209 yards and one touchdown, but didn’t throw an interceptions which have been his Achilles heal. Uncharacteristically the Eagles are 2-5 at home, which seem unfathomable a couple of years ago. The loss no doubt will be laid at the feet of Reid and McNabb, but everyone on the team all had a hand in the “no-fire” loss. I believe that even though the Eagles are mathematically in it and head coach Andy Reid said “We are still in it”, the Birds season is over with their eighth loss.
The key question from here is “where do the Eagles go from here??” I believe you will start to see several veterans jettisoned this off-season including McNabb, DE Jevon Kearse, DB Will James, and several others. For now as long as they are “mathematically” in the playoff hunt (Giants basically clinched one wild card and the Vikings are two games ahead of the Birds at 7-6), we will not hear the season is over but we all know this season is terminally doomed. The Eagles travel to Dallas next week to face a 12-1 Cowboys team that sped by them like a yugo facing a corvette.