EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --So there the Eagles were, leading by six points with 13 minutes, 12 seconds to go in a game that would decide the team that would lead the NFC East with three weeks to play in the regular season. Giants Stadium was, naturally, a zoo. A rainy day had cleared, and the night had boiled down to Eagles-Giants, a typically zany game in the division. And the Eagles, on the way to a 45-38 win that puts them in first place in the East, put together a drive to remember, a drive to put in a picture frame and appreciate.
Already, the game had been way, way unusual. The Eagles jumped out to a 14-0, thanks in part to a fortunate bounce of a Brandon Jacobs fumble that landed in Sheldon Brown's hands and ended up 60 yards away for a Philadelphia touchdown. There was an incredible performance by DeSean Jackson, caught 6 passes for 178 yards and a 60-yard touchdown, and who added a scintillating 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. Jackson, recovered quite nicely from a concussion, gained 261 yards on 8 touches, a remarkable game for a remarkable player.
The Eagles mixed more Michael Vick into the offense and he delivered with 3 carries for 11 yards and a touchdown and a 32-yard pass on an opening drive that produced 7 points. Donovan McNabb passed for a couple of touchdowns and was a big-play machine.
And New York just wouldn't go away, led by a punishing running game and a very, very good game from quarterback Eli Manning.
It was early in the fourth quarter. The Eagles had a 36-31 lead. And they were backed up to their 9-yard line, a division lead in the balance.
Enter the drive of the season. Again.
It began, with 13 minutes, 12 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, on a LeSean McCoy run to the left side for 3 yards. Play after play, the Eagles did what they wanted, mixing the run and the pass, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, moving the ball with precision and purpose and confidence. It was a beautiful drive to witness, highlighted by a 20-yard completion to Jackson after McCoy's run, and by a Leonard Weaver 10-yard ramble, and by a trio of screens that moved the ball into New York territory at the 31-yard line with time ticking away.
When McNabb threw to Reggie Brown on a shallow cross, and Brown came back to the near sideline and turned up the field for 19 yards, you knew the drive had the makings of something special. Brown's play gave the Eagles a first down at the 6-yard line, and after Vick's 5-yard run between the tackles moved the ball to the 1-yard line, Weaver finished things off with power and the Eagles pushed the lead to 45-31.
"We had so much confidence in the huddle, man, we just knew we were going to move the ball and score," said Weaver, who had 9 carries for 33 yards and one reception for 8 yards. "Our leadership stepped up. We all contributed, made big plays and put a little distance on the scoreboard. The Giants kept fighting back and fighting back. They didn't quit. We had to work until the very end."
It was that kind of game, a wonderful way for the Eagles to finish off Giants Stadium. The 83 combined points was a record number for this rivalry, and the Eagles won a game in which they, hold on to your laptops, allowed 512 yards of total offense to the Giants.
"I don't think that's the way we wanted it to go, but we'll take it," said safety Quintin Mikell. "We have to tighten things up on defense. Tonight, the offense and special teams really made plays to put points on the board."
Actually, Brown's play was huge, taking Jacobs' fumble -- forced by Trent Cole from the backside and then popped into the air when it bounced off of tight end Kevin Boss' leg -- to the house for his fifth career return for a score -- tying cornerback Eric Allen and linebacker Seth Joyner for most in Eagles history -- and giving the Eagles a 14-point lead early.
Alas, it didn't last long. In a game that had so many ups and downs, Brown's play was one of many to enjoy. Oh, it was a tremendous football game, full of so much drama, and it really wasn't over until Lawrence Tynes' onsides kick went out of bounds and the Eagles had the football, ate some clock and then punted away to the Giants for the final couple of snaps ... and even those plays deep in Giants territory turned nutso as Cole nearly started an all-out brawl after a Manning fumble was recovered by Joselio Hanson. Two teams that don't like each other took it too far after the whistle, but it certainly didn't matter. The message had been sent: The Eagles, now 4-1 in the NFC East, owned the Giants in the 2009 regular season.
Great stuff. The Eagles are sitting pretty in the playoff race and in the East. They hold a one-game lead over Dallas and a two-game advantage against the Giants. Dallas goes to New Orleans on Saturday night and the Giants have a tough division game in Washington. The Eagles have to get it back emotionally and beat San Francisco at home on Sunday, but we'll talk about that later in the week.
On the down side, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered a torn plantar fascia in his foot, and is expected to miss one to two weeks. The Eagles will replace him with Reggie Brown and Jason Avant, and maybe Kevin Curtis is ready to go on Sunday. Also, Brian Westbrook has a chance to get back on the field after practicing all week.
One of the many highlights of the win over the Giants was Jackson, who was simply unstoppable. The Giants foolishly punted to him, and his caught one Jeff Feagles kick, started right, paused, took a few steps backward and then used a fantastic blocking wall to race up the left sidelines, scoot past Feagles and score a touchdown that put the Eagles ahead, 24-10.
Then, in the third quarter after New York had taken a 31-30 lead, McNabb threw for Jackson running a post route from the right side of the formation to the left side, and caught the ball behind strong safety Aaron Ross. Jackson backed into the end zone, danced for a few seconds while he was there, and gave the Eagles a lead they would not relinquish.
It was, really, an exhausting, exhilarating, total team victory. The defense missed a bunch of tackles and gave up way, way too many yards, but the Eagles still had four takeaways -- all fumbles -- and put those points on the board on Brown's return. Jackson was as slippery and as fast and dynamic as any player can be. The Eagles ran the ball effectively and the offensive line gave McNabb all kinds of time and he was sacked just once.
McNabb threw the ball brilliantly and was as precise as a quarterback can be save for the interception he threw in the middle of the field when Brent Celek went one way and McNabb threw the other and the Giants' Jonathan Goff made the interception. Turned out not to hurt the Eagles, as Manning fumbled the ball back to the Eagles one play later.
In a nutshell, the game was an instant Eagles-Giants classic. Defense was not at the forefront of the great play as both teams averaged a whopping 7.1 yards per offensive play. Incredible.
What matters is that the Eagles have won four straight games and are now on top in the NFC East. It has been a long, steady climb for a team that is playing its best football at the right time of the year.
"We can feel it," said Reggie Brown, who caught 2 passes for 31 big yards. "We know there is a lot of work ahead. We haven't done what we set out to do, but we're getting there. Everyone is chipping in. That's what is important. We're all getting a little piece."
That's the way it was on The Drive to put the game away. Ninety-one yards, 12 plays and more than seven minutes off the clock. The Eagles lead the division after a rough, rugged, fantastic game against the Giants. Now they have to keep it going. Rest now, and keep the train rolling in the right direction.