Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has had the privilege – the misfortune, really – of playing against all of the NFL's top four defenses this season that aren't his own team. And New York has beaten all four of them – Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington twice.
But the Eagles were also the only team among those four to get the best of the Giants during the regular season. Perhaps that's why Jacobs has an exorbitant amount of respect for their defense, which has come on like a freight train in leading the Eagles during an improbable playoff run. To Jacobs, the Eagles are the best defense he's played against this season.
Now, Jacobs and the defending Super Bowl champs have to correct the errors that plagued them in their loss to the Eagles in Week 14 at Giants Stadium a month ago. In Sunday's NFC Divisional Round playoff game at East Rutherford, N.J., the Giants will face that same, smoking hot Philadelphia defense. No small task, said Jacobs.
"I enjoy watching the Eagles when they play against someone else, because I enjoy watching how they fly around," he said. "I like the Eagles more than (the other defenses), just because of the wars that we've been in with the Eagles. We see them twice a year. And sometimes three times."
In the previous two meetings this season, the Giants couldn't have contrasted themselves more drastically. Jacobs himself controlled the entire game in the Giants' 36-31 Week 10 triumph at Lincoln Financial Field. He had 126 yards and two scores, while the Giants were able to control the game clock for nearly two-thirds of the entire contest.
But in Week 14, Jacobs began to feel the effects of a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee. His touches were limited to 10, and the Eagles were able to neutralize the powerful Giant rushing attack. But since then, Jacobs has had two consecutive weeks to heal – he sat out the Giants' meaningless Week 17 contest at Minnesota.
And his "backup," Derrick Ward, has exploded, including a 215-yard performance in the Giants' impressive win against Carolina in Week 16. On the season, Jacobs and Ward became the first tailback tandem to each gain 1,000 yards rushing since 1985, when Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner did it for Cleveland.
So the Eagles are going to have to make adjustments, too, whether Jacobs is 100 percent healthy, or even if he's not.
"They have players they can plug in there, obviously. They have two 1,000-yard rushers," middle linebacker Stewart Bradley said. "That indicates that, although their backs and receivers are special, their offensive line is really the heart and soul of their team."
In ways, the offensive line and quarterback are about the only constants the Eagles will be facing this Sunday. In Week 14, tight end Kevin Boss was neutralized and Jacobs was banged up. In Week 10, Jacobs was healthy, Boss was overwhelmingly effective and the Giants had their ace in the hole, wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Since, Burress was involved in a Manhattan nightclub incident, which resulted in shooting himself in the thigh and getting suspended for the remainder of the season.
In turn, the biggest challenge for the Eagles might be that they don't know which challenge to expect. Safety Quintin Mikell called it "the nature of the beast," something that needs to be dealt with in football, especially when facing a team for the third time.
In summation, linebacker Akeem Jordan said it all.
"We just don't want to lose," he said.
Neither do the Giants. And they're out to prevent the loss of their title.
"The Eagles came here and they beat us. They wanted it more. They were the better team," Jacobs said. "It's a different time now, and we realize what's on the line."