The New York Giants come into the Philadelphia Eagles' stadium with an impressive 7 - 1 record, and not showing any signs of letting up after their Superbowl win last season. The Eagles come into this game at 5 - 3, looking for another win against a tough division opponent. Vice President Elect, Joe Biden, was at the game to cheer on the Eagles, in a comfortable box suite, while the rest of the Eagles fans had to sit in 48 degree weather - coming up in the world, Joe. ;)
It seems every week, as we get closer to the end of the season, the games get more important and the level of play steps up a notch. Both teams needed this win, as the remainder of their schedules are very tough; Giants have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, while the Eagles have the third toughest (based on future opponents' winning percentages). The Eagles knew they had a brutal game ahead of them, with the Giants having the number two rushing offense in the NFL (behind the Atlanta Falcons), and with Giants' Head Coach Tom Coughlin being tied for the best turnovers per game ratio of any coach with 150+ games (he is tied with Tony Dungy, of the Indianapolis Colts...the team the other Manning brother plays on).
The Giants got their big tight end, Kevin Boss, going early with some short passes, and gave Brandon Jacobs the ability to have another big game this season. Off of Jacobs' first three carries, he picked up 32 yards, and you already had the feeling he was going to have a very special game. Their first touchdown, was also Plaxico Burress' first catch of the game, coming off of a corner blitz that Eli Manning read perfectly. This 17-yard touchdown was the 33rd Manning-Burress touchdown combination, and was Burress' 4th touchdown reception of the season. The first quarter was all Giants, even though it ended with them only being up 10 - 7. The Eagles only had the ball for 90 seconds in the first quarter, and the Giants dominated with 176 total yards to the Eagles measly 12.
Giants long drive that started at the end of the first, was capped with a 1-yard touchdown reception by Kevin Boss, at the start of the second quarter. Boss extended his huge 6'6" frame to pull in this nice catch, giving him a touchdown catch in each of the last three games. That was probably the Giants most impressive drive, spanning 80 yards, over 10 plays, and taking 5:42 off the clock. It was strange to see the score close the entire first half, even though all the other stats would indicate that the Giants should have been destroying them. At the 8 minute mark in the second quarter, the Giants had 12 first downs to only 2 for the Eagles...that's just pitiful.
The story of the game for the Giants' offense was how calm Manning was in the pocket, their time-of-possession, and the amazing running by Jacobs. It just seemed like Manning had all day to throw, and he nearly did - the Giants had the ball for nearly 40 minutes of the game. Jacobs finished the game with 126 rushing yards, with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. My only beef with the Giants offense was how much they coughed up the ball. Several plays from Jacobs, and their other running backs, Derrick Ward & Ahmad Bradshaw, should have resulted in fumbles, but they were either down-by-contact or the ball went out-of-bounds. In my book, even if the result wasn't an actual fumble, I am still a bit worried about the hands of my back field, if I am Tom Coughlin. Speaking of their back field, I have to mention their full back, Madison Hedgecock. The guy gets no fucking recognition, even though he is the lead blocker on the majority of these huge runs by the Giants. He has had no carries for the season, but John Madden said it best:
He has turned into the best blocking full back in the NFL.
Don't expect me to say a lot about the Eagles - not because I don't like them as a team (which I do) - but because they had the ball for a third less of the game than the Giants did. In the first quarter, their first touchdown came off of a direct-snap play, in what is called a "Wildcat Formation", that DeSean Jackson ran in. Seeing a lot more of these direct-snap plays this season, as many teams have seen how successful it has been for the Miami Dolphins (yes...those same Dolphins that went 1-15 last season, are now 5-4 to start 2008).
It took a while for Donovan McNabb to get his rhythm; his first 9 passes only resulted on 1 reception. Eagles' Quarterbacks Coach, Pat Shurmur, will remind McNabb to plant his feet as he delivers the ball, which seems to be how McNabb gets out of his usual flow. By the Eagles second scoring drive, he started to have a better feel for the game. That drive went for 44 yards, spanning 6 plays, with an easy 10-yard touchdown reception for Jason Avant, when McNabb spotted his cut under-neath. Both of the Eagles first touchdowns were off of Giants' turnovers.
Really surprised to not hear Brian Westbrook's name much in this game. He is usually McNabb's favorite target, as he has great hands for a running back. Starting the second half, Westbrook only had 17 rushing yards off of 7 runs. Even without much help from Westbrook, the Eagles start the second half much better than they ended the first. Whenever McNabb had time, the Eagles' receivers could find holes in the Giants secondary. On their first drive of the second half, the Eagles were unstoppable. They started with great field position after a 37-yard kick off return by Quintin Demps, and make quick work of their short field. McNabb only need 6 plays and 3:36 off the clock to finish their most impressive drive of the game with a 7-yard fade route to Hank Baskett. This was Baskett's first catch of the game, but he practices that same fade route over-and-over in practice.
The Eagles final scoring drive included a couple big-time receptions by DeSean Jackson, and a nice scramble from McNabb himself. McNabb 5 years ago would have scored on that scramble, but those legs are not what they used to be, so he was stopped short at the 3 yard line. Since it was so late in the game, and the Eagles desperately need another score, Eagles' Head Coach Andy Reid elected to go for it on 4th and goal (once again, at the 3). On the next play, McNabb finds an open Kevin Curtin who was more than happy to give the Eagles another touchdown.
Down 31 - 36, with 3:14 left in the game, McNabb and the Eagles hope for another strong trot down the field. This drive included a big 17-yard gain by Curtin, and a 7-yard rush by McNabb, but it seems Andy Reid's hubris got the best of him. The Eagles are on their own 46, with plenty of time to come back and win this game, and are facing a 3rd and 1. As I mentioned, Westbrook was virtually non-existent in this game, and I wouldn't count on a quarter back sneak from the aging McNabb; if I am Reid, 3rd and 1 is definitely a passing play at this point in the game. Instead, the Eagles elect to go for back-to-back rushes, thinking that it is just 1 yard - no biggie. Well, I am sorry for the Eagles fans that had the wind knocked out of their sails, but it was a biggie, and the Eagles were stopped dead in their tracks.
What defense? The Giants defense was barely on the field in the first half, and once McNabb got into a rhythm in the second half, he was virtually unstoppable. The Giants' secondary really had no answer for the Eagles receivers. In the first quarter, the Giants special teams recovered a fumble by Eagles' Demps (his only real blunder of the day, and he is a rookie after all), which only resulted in a Jeff Feagles' field goal. I suppose I should mention the interception by Sam Madison in the second quarter, which was simply a poor throw by McNabb, and I am sure he could normally make it with his eyes closed. Another Eagles' turnover that only resulted in a Feagles' field goal.
Madison was in the game to replace Corey Webster, who left a big chunk of the game to tend to a groin pull. Being someone with a groin that has stuff that doesn't like to be pulled (well...not too hard, at least), I am sure that was really unpleasant. Webster is a better man than me though, because there is no way I would make it back to play later in the game, as he did. The only big play the Giants defense had to make was when they stopped the Eagles on their final possession, with those back-to-back rushing plays. The one that was for 4th and 1 looked like Westbrook was going to make it, but Giants' linebacker Chase Blackburn jarred him enough to stop his forward progress.
Mike Patterson had a hell of a game. Off of the third play of the game, he batted down a Manning throw, and was able to hold on for an interception. Later in the game, Brandon Jacobs was running for the first down, and noticed Asante Samuel was going to tackle him low, so he tried to hurdle over him - bad move. While in mid-air, Jacobs gets absolutely railed by Chris Gocong, forcing a fumble, which Patterson recovered. Samuel had a pretty quiet game, covering Burress the entire way; that might be considered a good thing for a corner back though, because you assume if they are not throwing the ball to the man you are covering, you must have their respect. Samuel's only memorable play was on a Giants' 2-point conversion attempt, when he swatted away the pass intended for Burress.
Even when the Eagles' secondary played the receivers well, the defensive line had no answer for the Giants' running back trio. Just about every time Jacobs, Ward or Bradshaw touched the ball, they picked up 4 - 7 yards. When putting it all in perspective though, the Eagles defense probably did not have a terrible game considering they were on the field a third as long as the Giants defense. Kind of an interesting penalty on Greg Lewis of the Eagles, which I figured I'd add. While Lewis was on the punt kicking team, he ran into the punt returner before the ball got there, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Never seen that penalty before, even though I knew it existed.
This was a fun game to watch, and you could feel the intensity in the air. Both sides played an extremely physical game, which could account for all the would-be fumbles from the Giants' running backs. There are two key plays that helped the Giants go 8 - 1, with a 36 - 31 victory over the Eagles. In the third quarter, Manning left the pocket and threw to Boss, which at first looked like he crossed the line-of-scrimmage. The referees conferred, and it was ruled an illegal forward pass. To which Coughlin said, "fuck you" and went for the challenge. After reviewing the play, the ruling on the field was reversed, and it was deemed a legal pass. Coughlin must have a lot of talented coaches looking at those replays, because he is the most successful coach in the history of coaches challenges (coaches challenges were initiated in 1999).
The other key play was one I mentioned earlier, when Andy Reid decided to go for rushing plays, back-to-back, on the Eagles final drive down the field. When you think Philadelphia Eagles, you think Donovan McNabb. McNabb is an extremely dangerous and talented quarterback, so when the game is on the line, I want it in his hands. Perhaps on another day, when Westbrook would have been on his A-game, it would not have been such an easy decision, but even still you have to give McNabb the opportunity to win you the game. Beyond that, the numbers speak for themselves: in 2008, the Eagles are 5 for 14 when faced with 3rd or 4th and 1 yard when attempting rushing plays, while they are 3 for 3 with passing plays. To me, it was a no brainer to try to have McNabb win it, but then again, I am not paid the big bucks!
Giants simply dominated time of possession, with solid rushing from Jacobs, and excellent protection for Manning. Even when McNabb could get a feel for the game, Giants proceed to put a beat-down on the Eagles' defense, thus keeping him off the field. Boss had a good game as usual, ending with a career high 69 yards receiving. Westbrook is normally really explosive out of the back field for the Eagles, but he was virtually non-existent for this game. Other than his fumble, Demps had several key kick off returns, and wide receivers Avant, Curtis & Jackson had decent games for McNabb. In a nutshell, the Giants were able to play their type of game on offense, and Reid was out-coached by Coughlin.
One last thought...
I think I witnessed the best hurdle of all time when I watched this game. Kevin Boss was going down the left sideline, and strong safety Quintin Mikell cam over for the tackle. Mikell, standing 5'10" is at a eight inch height disadvantage and nearly 50 pound weight disadvante with the Giants big tight end, so he has to improvise when trying to take Boss down. Mikell tries to take Boss' feet out, so Boss jumps straight over him; Mikell literally did not get a finger on Boss. It was fucking awesome to watch - I literally jumped out of my seat when I saw it. It is just not every day that you see a 6'6" tight end hurdle over a strong safety.