Suddenly, the Eagles are 1-2 after a rocky September, left to answer a lot of questions about such a tough start to the 2011 campaign. The loss was reminiscent of last year's early-season loss to Washington and of the loss a week earlier to Atlanta.
The Eagles came out and were hammered early, falling behind 14-0 as the defense allowed Eli Manning touchdown passes of 40 yards (to Brandon Jacobs against Casey Matthews) and 74 yards (to Victor Cruz, who beat safety Kurt Coleman and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha). An interception ended the Eagles' first drive when Michael Vick's pass clanged off the hands of Steve Smith, setting the tone for the day.
Even after the first half, when the Eagles had seemingly taken back momentum in the game, poor offense in the red zone stymied any chance for a lead. The Eagles were one of four in the red zone in the first half, with the worst to come.
Trailing by a point, the Eagles put together a drive in the third quarter that had the makings of something to turn the game around in their favor. There was Vick fumbling after he was hit, only to have the ball caught by offensive tackle Jason Peters and returned 7 yards for a first down. There was fullback Owen Schmitt on a second-and-8 play catching a pass and leaping over a tackler for a first down.
The drive looked magical, in a way.
But it didn't turn out that way. After Vick completed a 14-yard pass to Jason Avant to reach the New York 2-yard line, the drive stalled. Schmitt carried up the middle for a yard. An offsides penalty nullified a Vick sneak that went nowhere and moved the ball halfway to the end zone. On second and goal from the 1-yard line, Vick tried a quarterback sneak and was stopped for no gain. On third and 1, the Eagles turned and handed off to Schmitt again, and he was stopped before he started.
Alex Henery kicked a 21-yard field goal and the Eagles took a 16-14 lead, but the Giants dodged a huge bullet. And after that drive, Vick went into the locker room for X-rays on his right hand as the descent begin for the Eagles.
Vick didn't miss a series until the game turned completely in the Giants' favor with the help of a lack of execution on a fourth-and-1 call by head coach Andy Reid that failed. Leading 16-14 with 11:43 to go in the fourth quarter, the Eagles faced a fourth-down play at the New York 43-yard line. Instead of punting and hopefully pinning the Giants back in their own territory, the Eagles went for the first down. A handoff to LeSean McCoy was stopped for a loss of 3 yards and New York took over on its 46-yard line.
New York took control of the game from there. The Giants moved 54 yards in 7 plays, the clincher a Manning pass that he threw into coverage to Cruz, who beat Asomugha and safety Jarrad Page for the football at the goal line. A two-point conversion was successful and New York lead, 22-16.
Mike Kafka came on in place of Vick and tried to rally the offense, but instead of moving the team as he did in Atlanta, Kafka struggled. He threw deep on his first snap, a stutter-go to DeSean Jackson that was well covered. The Giants turned that takeaway into another touchdown when Manning beat a blitz on third and 11 by completing a screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw that gained 18 yards and a touchdown.
It was 29-16 then, and the game was all but over. Now comes the hard part: Where do the Eagles go from here?
Reid's decision to go for it on fourth down obviously backfired, and the Eagles paid. Vick has a broken right hand that swelled as his sat on the sidelines and his availability for the 49ers on Sunday is very much in question. The Eagles will likely go to Vince Young, if he is healthy, should Vick not play against San Francisco.
More than that, the Eagles could be dangerously thin at wide receiver. Jeremy Maclin suffered a hamstring injury that could keep him sidelined for a while. And Riley Cooper was knocked out with a concussion that could shelve him for a week or two.
Instead of bouncing back from the tough loss in Atlanta, the Eagles came out wobbly against their division rival, a team they had beaten six straight times. The offense was one for five in the red zone and zero for two in goal-to-go situations. The defense gave up four touchdown passes and has now given up eight in two weeks. New York, minus receivers Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon, had 5 plays of 20-plus yards. Cruz had all of 2 receptions entering the game and he tormented the Eagles with 3 catches for 110 yards and the pair of scores.
The defense is grasping for answers. Juan Castillo moved the linebackers around during the week, using Jamar Chaney in the middle and moving Casey Matthews to the weak side, with Moise Fokou on the strong side. What happens? The Giants isolated Matthews by running Jacobs down the sidelines and Matthews accepted responsibility for the blown coverage.
"I lost him," said Matthews. "That was on me."
After Cruz' first touchdown, Castillo benched Coleman and replaced him with Nate Allen, who is still not all the way back from his torn patellar tendon injury. The pass rush, while good enough to register three sacks, still wasn't enough to prevent Manning from completing 16 of 23 passes for 254 yards, 4 touchdowns and a passer rating of 145.7.
The offense wasted a brilliant performance from McCoy, who carried 24 times for 128 yards and a dazzling touchdown run. Jackson caught just 2 passes for 30 yards. Vick passed for only 176 yards on 23 attempts.
And the fireworks of the season-opening game dissolved into a dud of a second half once again for a team that is again in a hole created by a sub-par September.
"We can talk about being a great team and people can say all they want about us that way, but you are what you are with wins and losses," said McCoy. "We're not scoring in the red zone. We're turning the ball over. We're making too many mistakes. We're 1-2. That's what we are. We have to find a way to turn it around right now."