EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -It felt like the season was on the line for the Eagles at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. They had a five-point lead, Giants ball, just under four minutes remaining in the game. Hold time for the defense.
To this point, the defense had been hanging on for dear life against an up-tempo, Eli Manning-throw-the-ball Giants attack. Manning was 29-of-45 for 367 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception heading into the final drive. The Eagles had few answers for the depleted Giants offense.
And the Giants promptly went on the move, with Manning picking apart the Eagles' secondary and reaching the Philadelphia 22-yard line. First-and-10. Manning, over 400 yards for the game now, hardly looked like the quarterback who had been benched a couple of weeks ago. The Eagles' defense certainly didn't look like the unit that was so dominating for much of the first three quarters of the season.
But here it was. A win and the Eagles clinch a first-round bye in the postseason. A loss and the team falls into a tie with Minnesota for the best record in the NFC.
A completion to Sterling Shepard, who killed the Eagles all day, moved the ball to the Eagles' 9-yard line. A nice tackle by safety Rodney McLeod on a completion to Shepard forced a 2-yard loss. Second-and-goal from the 11-yard line with 58 seconds left. Ronald Darby broke up a fade pass in the left corner of the end zone intended for Roger Lewis.
Third-and-goal at the 11. A run up the middle to the 6-yard line by Shane Vereen. Eagles timeout, their last of the game. A false-start penalty on right tackle on Bobby Hart moves the ball back to the 11-yard line.
Season on the line. That's how it felt. The thousands of Eagles fans at MetLife Stadium chanting, "DEFENSE. DEFENSE."
And Manning dropped back to pass, unhurried. He threw into the back of the end zone for tight end Evan Engram, covered by safety Corey Graham. Incomplete.
The Eagles hung on for the victory, 34-29, to move to 12-2 and clinch a first-round bye and no worse than a second seed in the conference playoffs. A win over Oakland on Christmas night – or a loss by Minnesota at Green Bay the day before – would clinch the No. 1 seed for the Eagles.
"That's what it comes down to," Graham said after the game. "We won. We're 12-2. We know we didn't play our best game, but give the Giants credit, too. They came to play and they played well. They get paid like we do.
"At the end of the day, we won and that's what matters."
This one wasn't pretty in the least, other than the performance from quarterback Nick Foles in his first start of the post-Carson Wentz season. Foles tossed four touchdown passes, and while he wasn't exactly razor sharp, he didn't turn the ball over and he calmly and coolly led the Eagles back from an ugly 13-point deficit in the second quarter.
And the special teams played a critical role in the win with, in sequence, a blocked extra point, a blocked punt, and a blocked field goal.
"Special teams made the difference," defensive end Chris Long said. "That's how you win football games. Everybody contributes."
said. "He was calm the whole time, like we knew he would be. We just played a close game, that's all. The Giants played their hearts out. They really came at us. But we held on and now it's time to go back home."
So that's the bottom line from this game as the Eagles accomplish Goal No. 2 of the regular season. The defense gave up waaaaaaayyyy too much to Manning, who delivered quick throw after quick throw for 434 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
When it mattered, the Eagles stiffened. They permitted just six points in the second half. They hung on for the win. What happened on Sunday isn't going to mean much at all next Monday when Oakland comes to town.
"What do I take from this? Twelve-and-two," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "We gave up plays, too many of them, but we won the game."
Said safety Malcolm Jenkins: "It's the Giants. Crazy things always seem to happen against them. Today, they got us for some big plays, but we were the ones standing at the end. At this time of the year it's harder and harder to win games so we have work to do, but we'll take this one and move on."
A long, emotional, no-Carson Wentz week ended with a win. The Eagles went 2-1 in their three-game road-trip gauntlet. They've earned 12-2, warts be damned. One more win, or a Minnesota loss, and the Eagles host the NFC playoffs. Who would have ever thunk it way back in August?
"We're walking out of here with a win," said wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who contributed another big game with seven receptions for 59 yards and a score. "That's all that counts in the standings. We got what we came here to get and we're 12-2 and everything is in front of us now. That's a pretty good position to be in right now."