Any classic rock fan knows Mick Jagger's famous line that, "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."
If Jason Avant just hangs on to an easy touchdown pass. If Michael Vick doesn't overthrow a wide open DeSean Jackson as he's streaking down the sideline. If Jeremy Maclin is able to hang on to a pass right at the goal line. If Vick doesn't overthrow a wide open Clay Harbor. If Jackson is able to make a diving catch in the end zone. If a David Akers field goal isn't blocked at the end of the first half. If just a few of these "ifs" turned out in the Eagles' favor, they would have destroyed the Giants. It would have been another big-time blowout for the Eagles. I would have enjoyed the easy win that I wanted. Those things didn't happen and I had to settle for the tough win that the Eagles needed.
I had a friend of mine who is a non-Eagles fan call me on Monday and ask if the game was a lot of fun for me. I had to say that fun wasn't exactly the right word. I was off-the-charts happy when Shady McCoy took off running down the field for his 50-yard touchdown. That was a true moment of jubilation. Overall, it was a roller coaster game and I loved the outcome, but there were times when it was torturous as well. I enjoyed the way the Eagles dominated the first half, but was frustrated at only having a 10-point lead. Dominating the game and dominating the scoreboard are two very different things. That cost us the Titans game. I didn't want a repeat performance. The Giants came out after halftime and did just what we all feared. They scored a couple of touchdowns and took the 17-16 lead. I didn't just hit the panic button, I was attacking it with a sledge hammer. Blowing that game would have made for a long, miserable week and it would have put a lot of pressure on us down the stretch.
The great news in all of this is that Vick and the team didn't panic. They put together a 90-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that got the Eagles back the lead and they were able to eventually win 27-17. So why did the Eagles "need" a win like this? Things didn't come easily for them. The Colts game was tight, but they played from ahead. As fun as last week was, you can't take a whole lot from winning 59-28. That's an anomaly. We're a lot more likely to play with a four-point lead than we are a four-touchdown lead.
I love the fact that the team responded the way it did. They were only down one point, but blowing a 13-point lead can lead to a lot of self-doubt. I didn't see that in our players. The big problem they had was sloppy play, something that has plagued us all year long. Penalties really hurt the Eagles. A pass interference penalty on Quintin Mikell set up the Giants' first touchdown. They had stopped a drive and the Giants would have been attempting a 50-yard field goal, but instead had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. That put them right back into the game. Todd Herremans had a couple of huge penalties that killed potential scoring drives. One of the calls looked pretty iffy, to be fair. Unfortunately the flag was thrown and it cost us.
It was great to see the defense finally step up and play really well against a good team. We held the Giants to 17 points and 208 yards, both well below their average. Ahmad Bradshaw came into the game third in the league in rushing. After the game he was fifth. Our guys shut him and Brandon Jacobs down. The pass defense was excellent as well. Eli Manning attempted 33 passes, but only gained 147 yards. They didn't sack him, which frustrated me greatly. They did get pressure on him and the secondary covered well on the back end. That meant that Manning had to dump the ball short quite a bit.
Turnovers were obviously huge. The defense picked off Manning three times and they came away with a pair of fumbles. Asante Samuel led the way with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Samuel has the best ball skills of any Eagles cornerback that I've ever seen. He anticipates plays brilliantly, but just as important is the fact he is able to see the ball, get his hands into position and make the catch. In just over two-and-a-half years Samuel has 20 interceptions as an Eagle. Sheldon Brown had 19 in his career here and Lito Sheppard had 18. Samuel's not a perfect player, but he is a turnover machine.
Samuel almost got the second fumble as well, but couldn't hold onto the ball. Darryl Tapp was in position to scoop it up and end the Giants' final drive with any hope. Four of the turnovers were created by our defense. Manning's fumble after his scramble was a lucky play for the Eagles, but they were able to take advantage of it because Tapp hustled on the play and was in the right place at the right time.
The defense is showing some real good signs in the last few weeks. They have yet to put together a true 60-minute performance, but there is reason for optimism. The guys have shut down big-time runners. They picked off each Manning brother multiple times. The defense was great early in the Washington game. At the point when we had a 35-0 lead, the Skins had 23 yards of offense and no first downs. Things got sloppy afterward.
Sean McDermott does need his guys to play better in the red zone. They allow too many touchdowns. That is going to cost them a game at some point if we don't show improvement. We do pressure the passer well and lead the NFL in takeaways. The Saints had a defense like that last year and it helped them to win the Super Bowl, despite not having great overall numbers. I think our defense is on the brink of being pretty darn good, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.
The linebackers are a key component in all of this. The Eagles have a good defensive line. They have a good secondary. The middle of the defense is up and down. Sunday night the linebackers played well and the whole defense had a strong night. Other times the linebackers struggle and the defense is inconsistent because of that. This isn't a matter of talent. Stewart Bradley, Moise Fokou, and Ernie Sims have the ability to be an outstanding linebacking corps. They just need to eliminate some mistakes and play up to their ability each play, each drive, and each game. I'm encouraged, but still need to see more.
Brandon Graham has come a long way. He struggled against the run early in the season, but has shown a lot of improvement. He had to play a lot due to an injury to Juqua Parker. I thought Graham handled the situation well. He got some pressure on Manning and stripped the ball away from Bradshaw on a run play. Dimitri Patterson continues to play at a high level. Each week I'm more and more excited. He's got some good receivers to face in the last six weeks, but Patterson has been up to the challenge so far. I hope no one tells him he's not supposed to be playing this well.
Let's switch back to the offense for a minute. Vick had an odd game. His numbers weren't great and the highlight plays were missing, but it was great to see him handle what the Giants threw at him. They were aggressive off the edges. They blitzed him creatively. Vick had an off game by his recent standards, but he still had 292 total yards and led us to 27 points. The Giants got a lot of hits on him. Vick didn't change his game. He stayed in the pocket when he could. He ran when needed to. He spread the ball around and executed the offense. Vick didn't panic or act flustered at all. He took more of a beating than Manning, but which guy had the calmer demeanor? Which guy played better with the game on the line? Vick came up big despite things being tough. That's another important sign in his development as a quarterback.
The offensive line had a mixed night. They were very good in pass protection when dealing with just the Giants front four. The results were more mixed when the Giants blitzed. Some guys were coming free, but they were off the edge and not up the middle. The line didn't have a good night of run blocking. LeSean McCoy had no room to run until late in the game when he broke free for a couple of long gainers. Our run blocking has got to improve.
The one skill player who really stood out was Jeremy Maclin. He caught nine passes for 120 yards. Maclin looked like the biggest star receiver on the field, not Jackson or Hakeem Nicks. Maclin caught balls all over and kept the chains moving. He showed good after-the-catch skills on a few plays. He came very close to making a spectacular catch right at the goal line, but couldn't quite hang on. I see Maclin in games like this and wonder just how good he can be. He's been good all year, but Sunday night was a terrific showing in a big game against a good defense.
The Eagles are now firmly atop the NFC East, at least for now. The guys have won three games in a row. There is a lot to be excited about. Oddly, I don't get the sense that the team feels any sense of satisfaction. They seem focused. Young teams sometimes enjoy success too much, but having a coach like Andy Reid and some key veteran leaders must be the right elixir for that. This team has developed quite nicely and should have bigger goals than just being in first place at Thanksgiving. If the guys stay focused, we're in for a heck of a stretch run.