In the end, it was just too much Giants and not enough, well, not enough of a lot of things. Mostly, though, it was not enough success at the line of scrimmage in a 36-31 loss at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night, a loss that dropped the Eagles to 5-4 and puts them three games behind New York in the NFC East with seven games to play.
You can pore through a whole lot of things about this game, and we will, but here is what you need to know most of all:
- The Giants ran for 219 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
- The Eagles ran for 106 yards, but Brian Westbrook accounted for just 26 yards on 13 carries, and failed twice to convert late in the game, first on a third-and-3 play when he ran to the right edge of the formation and then when he was stoned on a fourth-and-1 run to the right side.
Short-yardage situations have been a problem for the Eagles all season, and they were again an issue late in a game that the Eagles were, shockingly, one touchdown away from winning. The Eagles were dominated at the line of scrimmage as New York doubled the time of possession, but there the Eagles were, down five points, with the ball and a first down at their 36-yard line with 2 minutes, 35 seconds to play.
Donovan McNabb's pass on first down was dropped by tight end Brent Celek. McNabb then scrambled for 7 yards as the clock wound down to two minutes.
On third and 3, Westbrook tried the right side, but the Giants stopped him after a 2-yard gain. The Eagles showed confidence in the running game on fourth down and the Giants responded by beating the Eagles at the line of scrimmage for the hold.
"I have to look and see what I can do better in those situations," said Westbrook, ever the leader. "I have to do a better job."
Maybe, but it sure looked like Westbrook had nowhere to run all game. It has been a recurring theme too often this season: The Eagles are not converting enough short-yardage runs and they aren't giving Westbrook a chance to be Westbrook.
"We just didn't get it done," said right guard Max Jean-Gilles. "We came up short once again. It's on us."
It is one of many issues to discuss now and for the next couple of days as we try to shake off this loss to the Giants, one that dropped the Eagles to 0-3 in the NFC East this season.
Why can't the Eagles run the ball consistently? Poor play up front? No true fullback? Running backs who aren't big enough? Some of all of the above, and then some?
"It's been our curse the entire season," said Jean-Gilles. "We didn't execute and we came up short just by inches again."
Yeah, well, the Eagles would like to do a lot of things different when they play back this game. A slow start put the Eagles in a hole on Sunday night, but they showed heart and climbed out … only to fall short as the New York offense plowed its way down the field in the second half.
The Eagles went up against the best on Sunday night, no doubt about it, and the Giants did the things we knew the Eagles might have trouble with to drop Philadelphia to 5-4 and make the margin for error around here almost nothing in the final seven weeks of this season.
Where to begin here? The second half is a good place to start, because after the Eagles took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and moved brilliantly into scoring position and then scored on a McNabb fade pass to Hank Baskett to lead 24-20, the Giants took over.
Just as it was in the first half after the Eagles took a 7-0 lead, New York pushed the Eagles all around at the line of scrimmage and drove 69 yards on 13 plays to grab back the lead on a punishing drive aided by a questionable reversal of an apparent illegal forward pass – Eli Manning was initially ruled to have stepped over the line of scrimmage on a completion to tight end Kevin Boss, and somehow the play was overturned – and while you can bellow and scream about the officials on that one, the fact is the Giants dominated the line of scrimmage.
That fact, more than anything else, was what you have to understand here. The Eagles knew they had to be physical in every phase of the game, and they really gave it everything they had. But the defensive front was not much of a match for a Giants offense that controlled the football for 39:10.
New York's three-headed monster of a running game accounted for 217 yards, helping the Giants convert 7 of 15 third downs and effectively keeping McNabb off the field. Manning was only OK, but he did go to Eagles-killer Plaxico Burress for an early touchdown and then to Boss a half-dozen times to continue Philadelphia's defensive problems against tight ends.
The offense? Other than a conversion after an early turnover and some success late in the first half and early in the second half, not much. McNabb started slowly again and never really heated up on a chilly night. The running game was a bust. The Eagles converted just 3 of 11 third downs.
That the Eagles were even in the game in the fourth quarter was a mild surprise after the way it went in the first quarter.
New York was nearly perfect through 15 minutes and then some, making just one mistake. It happened on the first series when Mike Patterson intercepted Manning's pass and gave the fans at pumped-up Lincoln Financial Field something to get excited about it. Patterson made a terrific play, picking off Manning's throw -- which appeared to be headed into the right flat for Steve Smith -- and returned it to the 9-yard line and two plays later the Eagles ran their version of the "Wildcat" formation with DeSean Jackson taking a direct snap and running into the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Exciting stuff. A lead!
And then ...
The Giants took over and had their way. Manning was good given plenty of time, moving his passes to a variety of receivers and the Giants put together an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. That the scoring pass went to Burress was typical of the night for the Eagles -- the Giants had a third-and-9 play from the 17-yard line and blocked a blitz with Sheldon Brown coming from Manning's backside -- and Burress was open between the zone coverage of Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell and it was an easy throw and catch for Manning and Burress.
Then Quintin Demps fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Giants recovered and turned it into three points and, well, playing catch up against the Giants is not the advisable way to do things. Especially when the offense had just about nothing going and the defense couldn't get off the field.
Check out the Giants' drives in the first quarter: 80 yards, 10 plays, touchdown; 4 yards, 4 plays, field goal; 80 yards, 10 plays, touchdown. And very early in the second quarter, the Giants led 17-7 and the crowd was dead.
Chris Gocong delivered a punishing hit on Brandon Jacobs to force a turnover and the Eagles came to life, driving 44 yards and scoring on McNabb's touchdown pass to Jason Avant. But then McNabb badly underthrew Jackson on the right sideline and Sam Madison made the interception and returned it 21 yards to the Philadelphia 14-yard line to lead to a field goal and a 20-14 advantage.
McNabb led a 9-play, 61-yard drive to score three points at the end of the first half, and the touchdown that opened the second half gave the Eagles a short-lived lead.
It was a lot of New York after that, and, yeah, the loss raised some questions about these 5-4 Eagles. Some things to consider …
- While the Eagles tried all kinds of blitzes and ran games and tried to match the Giants' physical play, the defense just couldn't do so for an extended period of time. New York ran the ball up and down the field. What do the Eagles do moving forward? There are no quick fixes here. When you match up against an offensive line like the one the Giants have, you are going to lose some battles. The Giants are very, very good up front, and they have played together for a long time. Maybe the Eagles need to be bigger up front in the big picture. They aren't going to get bigger this season. They are what they are, and the Eagles will continue to work on their gap control and their blitz assignments, but the fact is the Eagles, on this night, were just out-muscled.
- This has been a problem at times all year, but it became clear on Sunday night: The Eagles aren't generating enough pressure with their four-man pass rush. When you have to blitz so often to get to the quarterback, it's a problem. It is way too taxing on a defense to rely on the blitz to get pressure and get sacks. Cole had a sack of Manning, but the Giants generally gave him plenty of time when the Eagles didn't have an all-out blitz.
- Offensively, the Eagles continued a trend of starting slowly and it caught up with them on Sunday night. McNabb did not complete his first pass until the 8:15 mark of the second quarter, and he finished the first half 9 of 20 for just 85 yards. It wasn't all on McNabb against the Giants, because there were some drops and there was some pressure, but McNabb is clearly the key piece in the passing game.
- New York held Westbrook to just 59 total yards from scrimmage and nobody really stepped up to fill the void. L.J. Smith had a decent night with 3 catches for 36 yards and Jackson was a threat with the ball in his hands – 4 catches, 61 yards, 3 rushes, 24 yards -- but the Eagles did not take advantage of a New York secondary missing starting strong safety James Butler and reserve cornerback Kevin Dockery.
- And how about the running game? McNabb had a big scramble or two and Jackson gained 24 yards on three carries, but the Eagles were otherwise shut down. Bad sign. The offensive line did not handle the physical Giants up front.
- The Eagles converted only those few third downs and they burned two timeouts in the second half after unsuccessfully challenging two calls, and, um, it's on to Cincinnati and a chance to get a winning streak going again.
Hey, football is a game of a couple of plays here and there and some bounces that go one way or the other. The Eagles aren't winning close games, and they aren't beating division opponents. They have to be great the rest of the way to make the playoffs.
Oh, they'll come back. I have faith in that. I think the Eagles are going to be in the thick of things in December, but they have to find some way to win close games, something they really haven't done for a couple of seasons.
It was a tough loss and it is a bitter feeling. The Eagles lost at the line of scrimmage, and they have other questions to answer, with not much time or margin for error to consider.