EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It was 60 minutes of football the way the Eagles knew they could play it, with ferocity on defense, with a physical presence and tremendous balance on offense, with a helter-skelter special teams that gave and took from the New York Giants. On a windy, cold, awesome afternoon at Giants Stadium on Sunday, the Eagles won one they had to win, beating the Giants 20-14 to keep the season alive and raise hopes that maybe, just maybe …
No sense talking about what might be. What was on Sunday is enough to enjoy. As the Giants fans excited with half a fourth quarter to go, the Eagles offense had another methodical drive as the line controlled New York's vaunted defensive front seven and quarterback Donovan McNabb masterfully executed a great game plan and running back Brian Westbrook contributed 203 yards from scrimmage on a career-high 39 touches, including a career-high 33 carries.
It was smash-mouth football on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Eagles rose up and punched New York's mouth over and over and over again. Employing a ball-control offense and shutting down the New York running game, the Eagles held the football for 34 minutes, 54 seconds. The Giants had only three offensive possessions in the second half, and scored their only points after the Eagles held a 13-point lead with time winding down.
"I think everyone knew how much this game meant," said linebacker Chris Gocong, who helped limit a Giants running game that rang up 219 yards in the game at Lincoln Financial Field to only 88 yards in this game. "I took that last game personally. It was very disappointing the way our defense performed. We know we are better than that. We wanted to come out and show it today."
The Eagles did just that. There were several key moments and key performances that need more discussion ...
THE OFFENSIVE PHILOSOPHY
Contrary to what some want to believe, the Eagles didn't completely abandon the passing game. What they did, however, was give the running game a chance and try to achieve some balance. The wind was downright nasty for much of the game and the Eagles prepared to go head to head with New York's front seven.
It worked. The Eagles kept at. That was important. They had some early success and they stuck with the run, mostly between the tackles. On Westbrook's 30-yard touchdown run, fullback Dan Klecko picked up a blitzer and Westbrook kept his legs moving as he ran into a logjam at the line of scrimmage. Once the Eagles created a crease, Westbrook found it and took off into the clear and the Giants couldn't catch him.
By then, though, the Eagles had established the line of scrimmage. They backed the Giants off the line of scrimmage on a first-quarter throw from McNabb to a leaping Kevin Curtis that went for 32 yards and set David Akers up for a 51-yard field goal, and McNabb was poised and confident at the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles converted 12 of 18 third downs and, yeah, Kyle Eckel got the call and converted a third-and-1 run on a drive that ended with McNabb stepping up in the pocket and leading Westbrook perfectly as he ran away from Antonio Peirce in coverage en route to a 40-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles a 17-7 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
It was a great game plan, and the offense executed it to a tee. Nick Cole held his own against the Giants at right guard. Everything worked as the Eagles churned out one of their best 60-minute offensive performances of the year.
WESTBROOK'S AMAZING DAY
Did anybody benefit more from having last Friday, Saturday and Sunday off than Westbrook? The Eagles had a mini-bye weekend after defeating Arizona and Westbrook took advantage. It also helped that the Eagles held Westbrook out of practice on Thursday and Friday to get him ready for this game on artificial turf.
Westbrook came ready to carry a load. And he did that, and then some. Westbrook banged and bruised his way to the big day, was explosive in both the rushing game and the passing game and was by far the best player on the field.
Think about this: Westbrook has 235 touches from the line of scrimmage and he has scored 14 touchdowns. It rounds out to this incredible statistic: Westbrook has scored a touchdown every 17 times he has touched the ball this season. Amazing.
Known as a flash-and-dash back, Westbrook showed again that he can be a physical, move-the-chains player. Healthier now than he has been all season, Westbrook will welcome the days off between now and Thursday.
DEFENSE REDEEMS ITSELF
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson didn't change a ton in his scheme, but he did devote more time to stopping the powerful Giants running game. The Eagles played most of the time with eight men in the box and relied on coverage from their cornerbacks to shut off the Plaxico Burress-less Giants receiving corps.
Great job. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 52 yards on 10 carries before leaving with a knee injury. Derrick Ward gained 39 yards on 8 carries. So while those two backs had good numbers in terms of yards per carry, the Eagles were able to take the Giants out of third-and-short situations.
It was physical all around. Trent Cole was dominating from his right end spot and he disrupted what the Giants tried to do all day. Tackles Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley and Victor Abiamriri did a good job inside. Juqua Parker and Darren Howard made plays and Chris Clemons filled in as a joker and added to the pressure.
The Eagles didn't blitz a lot or take many chances, because it was clear that Eli Manning had some troubles throwing the football in the wind. He had his moments, though, that scared the daylights out of the Eagles. Once, Manning found Domenick Hixon down the field on a post route against Sheldon Brown and hit Hixon between the numbers. Fortunately, Hixon's hands didn't cooperate and the Eagles escaped the potentially huge play.
Johnson's defense played with emotion and discipline. The tackling was great. Manning was pressured just enough to force him into an ugly day. Everybody contributed.
What was different from the first go-around with the Giants? Well, Akeem Jordan is the starter at the WILL linebacker spot and he is playing very well. The Eagles didn't have to scheme for Burress, who usually commands a safety over the top. This time, the Eagles used that safety in the box to stop the run, and it worked to near-perfection.
McNABB STANDS OUT WITH ARM, LEGS
McNabb was sacked only once, a credit to the offensive line and to the way he used the pocket. McNabb completed 19 of 30 passes for 191 yards and a touchdown. He also ran 5 times for 20 yards, including a gigantic 7-yard gain to convert a third-and-5 play in the fourth quarter to keep a drive alive. That drive ended with a McNabb touchdown pass to Westbrook to give the Eagles a 17-7 lead.
It was as crisp a performance from McNabb as any of the ones he has had in the past, given the importance of the game and the quality of the defense. McNabb looked like he was relaxed and focused from the very start. He threw in a rhythm, and actually could have put up bigger numbers had the referees seen some fairly-obvious pass-interference penalties.
McNabb needs to keep it going. The Eagles are so good when they have some balance and when McNabb is in his groove. The win over the Giants should give him and this team a terrific boost of confidence.
UNSUNG STARS AID IN BIG WAY
There were a bunch of them. Let's take a look ...
- Right guard Nick Cole is an obvious choice as he played his first complete game in the NFL. Cole wasn't perfect, and he will look at the film and see plenty of areas where he can improve, but for the most part Cole played well.
- Tight end L.J. Smith caught 6 passes for 44 yards, and Smith showed some nifty open-field moves with the ball in his hands. Smith was the most productive he has been all season at a critical time. He blocked well and caught the ball well and made some big plays with his legs.
- Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley had nine total tackles. He ran sideline to sideline and helped get to that Giants running game before it had a chance to go downhill. Bradley and his linebacker mates covered well – tight end Kevin Boss had just one catch for 5 yards – and they tackled extremely well.
- Trent Cole had 5 tackles, one for a loss, but the true impact he had did not measure in his numbers. He was a force at right end.
- David Akers boomed his 51-yard kick and was not to blame for the two blocked field goals. Akers kicked off well and handled the past demons of Giants Stadium to make two field goals and give the Eagles a lot of confidence once they got into field-goal range.
There were a couple, for sure. The approach was a winner, for starters. The Eagles came ready to play smash-mouth football and they clearly were ready for that challenge.
Calling a timeout late in the first quarter to give Akers a chance to kick a 51-yard field goal with the wind was a very smart thing to do, even if the previous play – a handoff to DeSean Jackson -- resulted in a 7-yard loss and nearly knocked the team out of field goal range.
Johnson's decision to commit to stopping the run was the key for the defense. He used his personnel well and shut down the New York offense throughout the game.
And, finally, whatever the coaches did at halftime – however minor – helped the Eagles overcome the psychological blow they suffered when the Giants blocked a field goal and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the second quarter.
Great job all around by the coaches.
WHAT IT MEANS
It means that the Eagles are still alive, and it means that the Eagles are good enough to beat any team when they play a good game in every phase. The celebrating is OK for a day or two. Then it's on to the Browns and reality: The win over New York kept the season alive. The Eagles still have zero margin for error.
But we know now that the Eagles have a very good team when they put it all together. The win over the Giants was sweet. It was great. It was a total team effort.
Now the challenge is to keep it going, keep it rolling. The Eagles have now put together back-to-back outstanding performances and it feels great right now. You go out and beat the Giants on the road, a big win in the NFC East, and you know the possibilities are endless.