Sometimes the game of football comes down to the simple, very obvious things that make a difference between a win and a loss. That was the case on Back in Black Monday Night, as the Eagles forced three turnovers, one an interception returned for a touchdown, and convincingly won the line of scrimmage en route to a 27-7 win over the New York Giants.
And now, Eagles fans, revel for the moment a team that dug its way out of a 1-3 hole to start the season and is now 3-3, in first place in the NFC East, with some absolutely huge games ahead in this 2015 season.
"We have a lot of football left, a big game on Sunday night, but it's good to get this one against a division rival," said wide receiver Riley Cooper, who had three catches for 76 yards and a big touchdown to tie the game early.
Monday night was a blast, from every angle. Lincoln Financial Field was rocking from mid-afternoon on, and the festivities were enhanced by the induction of former linebacker Maxie Baughan and former running back Brian Westbrook into the franchise's Hall of Fame, the Class of 2015. Those two, along with a large group of former Eagles on hand to celebrate, witnessed a flat-out smothering of a Giants team that had won three consecutive games entering Monday night.
And when New York rolled on its opening possession, 80 yards on eight plays for a touchdown, and then held the Eagles' offense to a three-and-out series, some palms became a touch sweaty in South Philadelphia and around the world for Eagles fans.
But then the game changed. Just like that. New York drove from its 37-yard line to the Philadelphia 23-yard line in nine plays, in scoring position for the second time in as many offensive series. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans ripped an Eli Manning pass on the left sideline out of the hands of tight end Larry Donnell for a takeaway and, in a flash, the momentum reversed.
"It was huge and I think that play really sparked the defense," Ryans said. "They took the first drive and went right down the field and scored and then came back with another drive and it was not looking good. I knew we had to do something to stop them. I'm happy I was able to be the guy to make that play."
"That play," cornerback Nolan Carroll said, "changed everything in this game."
A roughing-the-passer penalty against Giants defensive end Damontre Moore on quarterback Sam Bradford kept the ensuing Eagles drive alive after it appeared the offense was heading toward another three-and-out series, and the Eagles made New York pay. Running back DeMarco Murray gained 7 yards on a reception and run, then after a pass to wide receiver Josh Huff, Bradford went up top to Cooper for 32 yards and a touchdown. Caleb Sturgis booted the PAT and the game was tied, 7-7. It was the Eagles' first first-quarter touchdown of the season.
"Sam made a great throw," Cooper said. "He made it easy for me."
Early in the second quarter, the game changed for good. Carroll played a Manning sideline pass for receiver Dwayne Harris perfectly, made the interception and strolled 17 yards for a touchdown as Lincoln Financial Field went bonkers.
"It was a bang-bang thing. I saw Eli looking at him (Harris) and he threw it and I just made the catch and started running," Carroll said. "They got us that first touchdown and we knew we had to buckle down and get the momentum back. We did that and really kind of shut them down."
It was over after that. The Eagles had the three takeaways – and they gave it back way too often, too (three Bradford interceptions and a Jordan Matthews fumble) but the defense never let New York take advantage. A Giants penalty for running into punter Donnie Jones kept a drive alive and led to a Murray 12-yard touchdown run.
New York had turned the ball over just three times in the first five games; the Giants had three giveaways on Monday night and gained a measly 167 total net yards on 56 plays from scrimmage after that opening-drive touchdown.
The rest of the game was all about the line of scrimmage and the Eagles dominated there. Manning was sacked three times and had 166 net passing yards. New York ran for only 81 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.
And to a man, the Eagles traced the turnaround to the Ryans takeaway on New York's second drive.
"They were driving on us on that second drive and his interception cut that drive short and after that we were rolling," said linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led the defense with 10 solo tackles. "It gave us the ability to regroup after and I think that's kind of what we needed, to settle down. They were hitting us, but then we turned things around."
It all started up front as Vinny Curry (1 ½ sacks) and Fletcher Cox (one sack) dominated, along with Bennie Logan.
"We just went after them up front," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our line had a great game."
The offense? Four giveaways, some missed chances in the red zone and generally uneven play, but there were plenty of bright spots. Murray had his first 100-yard rushing game (he gained 109 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries). Bradford was sacked only once and passed for 280 yards. Cooper, Miles Austin (three catches, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (six catches, 59 yards) gashed the defense.
And if you want to find an under-the-radar standout, it was Jones, who averaged 54.3 yards on four punts, with a 49-yard average to flip field position early when the game was still in the balance.
That's two straight victories for the Eagles, who now must turn around and play at unbeaten Carolina (5-0) on Sunday night. There is no time to celebrate. But there is a moment for us to acknowledge that the Eagles had a 20-point win against a division rival while playing far less than a complete game.
"We needed the win and we get it," tackle Lane Johnson said. "That's what matters. We know we have a lot of things to clean up, but what's important is that we won the game. We'll take it. It feels good."
The Eagles faced the Giants for Monday Night Football, sporting their #BackInBlack uniforms. View the full gallery here...