For everything the Eagles overcame at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night, the final result of their 36-31 loss to the Giants seemed almost inexplicable.
They overcame both a 17-point and a 16-point New York scoring run. They overcame three gigantic third-down penalties that gave the Giants touchdowns in the long run as opposed to field goals or punts. They overcame yet another slow start for Donovan McNabb and the offense. They overcame two turnovers that put the Giants on the Eagle doorstep.
All that, and it came down to one yard.
One yard that the Eagles, like a skipping record of pure feedback, failed to get.
In a game dictated by big plays, it was the little ones that decided it, making it yet another "coulda, shoulda, but didn't" NFC East heartbreaker. Brian Westbrook was stuffed on a fourth-down off-tackle run with under two minutes to play, failing to extend a drive that could have won the game and sent Philadelphia into a frenzy.
Instead, the Eagles were left trying to answer the same questions they've been unable to answer since Week 2.
"We came up short once again. It's on us," said right guard Max Jean-Gilles, one of the linemen Westbrook was behind on the missed conversion. "It's been our curse the entire season."
In reality, it's amazing the Eagles had a shot in the first place. With 9:35 left in the game, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs did some overcoming of his own – he managed to beat challenges on back-to-back plays. Known for his knack to drop the football (which he did once on Sunday), Jacobs managed to hang on to it just long enough to push to the Eagles' 3-yard line three for a first down, getting down before Brian Dawkins stripped the ball out. On the next play, he plowed forward for the touchdown, and the ball popped out just moments after he crossed the goal line, making the score 36-24.
Head coach Andy Reid challenged both plays, but both were upheld.
Still, McNabb engineered a four-minute scoring drive culminating in a two-yard Kevin Curtis touchdown, giving the Eagles hope once again. In all, the Eagles conquered the red-zone scoring bug, scoring four touchdowns and a field goal in five tries.
But after the defense forced a gutsy three-and-out, the offense stalled. The big questions will be about two consecutive outside running plays – a sweep and a delay – with only three yards to go. It's the third time this season in four losses that the Eagles' late hopes for a winning touchdown ended on a botched fourth-down conversion.
"I want the ball," said McNabb, who was not given the opportunity for a sneak. "But our coaches felt like we could run the ball and pick up the two yards we needed … and unfortunately it didn't happen that way."
In all, it was a wild game. The Eagles tipped and picked off Eli Manning's first throw, setting up a DeSean Jackson rushing touchdown. But the momentum shifted when the Giants marched for the tying score, then Quintin Demps fumbled the ensuing kickoff, leading to a New York field goal.
In the second quarter, the Giants were in rhythm when the huge Jacobs leapt over Asante Samuel, but Chris Gocong met him in midair to force a fumble. The Eagles converted another touchdown, while the Giants were only able to tack on another field goal after a Sam Madison interception deep in Eagles territory.
But though the Giants didn't convert touchdowns on the Eagle turnovers, they more than capitalized on penalties. An Asante Samuel illegal contact penalty, a Stewart Bradley facemask and a Trent Cole offsides all came on third down, all gave the Giants a second chance, and all were turned into pivotal touchdowns.
And then, there was the penalty that wasn't, an illegal forward pass called on Manning – coming after the Samuel penalty – that was waved off after review.
And still, it came down to the one yard, which the Eagles couldn't squeeze out.
"We thought we could attack what we thought was their weakness. That's why we did what we did," Reid said. "Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, and we didn't get it done, so we can debate it and question it all that we want."