Giants gut out emotional win
Saddled with the toughest schedule in the NFC, the Giants might have saved their season Sunday in Philly, writes John Clayton.
In 2006, everyone seems to be on a no-huddle kick, copying the Peyton Manning offense.
For the first time in a regular-season game, the Eagles went no-huddle against the Giants Sunday. It was a huge success. After falling behind by seven points in the first quarter, Donovan McNabb reeled off 24 unanswered points, and at one stretch, the Eagles outgained the Giants, 378 yards to 20.
What teams better learn from the Colts is how to operate with the lead.
The Eagles blew a 17-point lead and lost in overtime, 30-24, to a Giants team that literally saved its season thanks to its resilience. The Giants appeared to be dead. Eli Manning was a standing target. Overall, he was sacked eight times. Because of the protection problems, the Giants were spitting out three-and-out possessions with consistency.
"We were down 24-7, and not much was going very well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I told the players I saw a little glimpse of New York Giant pride in that second half. They kept coming back and they kept fighting little by little. It wasn't pretty but it was effective."
Said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan as he walked off Lincoln Financial with a huge smile: "This is about Giants pride and everybody's personal pride. At halftime I wanted to go home and hide in my apartment. Now, I'm going to go out."
The Giants can party because the alternative was being 0-2 heading to Seattle in a season in which they face the toughest schedule in the NFC. Giants linebacker LaVar Arrington said the game reminded him of the Redskins' improbable come-from-behind win over the Cowboys early last season when Mark Brunell threw two touchdown passes in the final minutes. Though Arrington didn't play a big part in that game, he watched the confidence of the Redskins grow.
Giants pride was beaming after the game. What was a blowout turned into a marathon. Wide receiver Amani Toomer had to be carried into the locker room because he was dehydrated and cramping. He left everything on the field. So did several other players in a game that lasted three hours and 56 minutes.
All appeared to be over when McNabb hit Reggie Brown with a 23-yard touchdown pass with 10:49 left in the third quarter. The score gave Philadelphia a 24-7 lead. McNabb was 21-for-34 for 297 yards and two touchdowns. (He finished 27-of-45 for 350 yards and three TDs.) Worse, the Giants' defense appeared to be on fumes. Reacting to no-huddle plays in 79 degree heat for a second consecutive game (Peyton Manning got them in the opener) left Giants defenders feeling like midgets.
"I got tired, man, and I'm sure a lot of guys were getting tired and toward the end of the game a lot of guys were cramping up," Arrington said. "That's two weeks in a row where we couldn't go into a huddle. I'm sure we could have been worse off particularly after having Peyton Manning christening us last week. But once we adjusted and figured out it wasn't a hurry-up offense, it was a no-huddle offense. There's a difference. Early, we were panicking. We figured out that they were just not huddling and we started to focus."
This is where the Eagles need to huddle. It's great to exhaust a defense and leave it gasping. But it's also important to close out the game with a running game and enough plays to eat up the clock. The Eagles failed there. In the final 19 minutes, in fact, Manning and the Giants outgained the Eagles, 314 yards to 45.
It was a tale of two games.
"That loss right there, that's my responsibility," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "I didn't have our guys ready to go in the second half. That should never happen to this football team. There were some strategic thinks that I should have done a little different."
In the fourth quarter, for example, the Eagles had four possessions and produced two first downs. Worse, only one of those possessions ate up more than two minutes of clock.
Eagles halfback Brian Westbrook blamed himself for losing a fumble and not getting the big yards toward the end of the game.
"We didn't get it done," Westbrook said. "We have to be able to run better against teams, but it's also the job of a running back not to put the ball on the ground and that was my fault."
In some ways, the Eagles no-huddled their way into a box. With a 17-point lead and no big back to wear down the Giants, New York's defense got its second wind. And with nothing to lose, Manning kept throwing even though every pass seemed to come with a defender in his face or around his feet.
The Giants got a break at the beginning of the fourth quarterback when Brian Dawkins stripped a fumble from wide receiver Plaxico Burress, but Giants receiver Tim Carter recovered it in the end zone to cut the lead to 24-14.
"I was on the other side of the field and I saw Plaxico make the catch and I saw him try to break a tackle," Carter said. "He got hit and I saw the ball fly out. I pointed toward the ball and I saw a couple of guys go after the ball. I thought it might get kicked around. I went after it and thought I wanted to go after it in the battle and I won. I was aware of where I was and knew that I might be able to get it into the end zone."
At that point, the Giants were playing on pure emotion and pride. The Giants appeared to be lost at 24-14. Perhaps Reid's biggest mistake came with 8:49 left in regulation. The Eagles had a fourth-and-one at the Giants' 38. It was too far away from a field goal, and Reid didn't want a punt sailing into the end zone. So he called a running play. Correll Buckhalter was stopped for no gain. The Giants suddenly started to feel as though they had a chance.
"It was a huge win," Manning said. "It was downright ugly for a while. We couldn't move the ball. We couldn't get anything going. We couldn't run. We couldn't throw. We didn't make the mistakes. We didn't turn the ball over. We didn't give them good field position so they had to earn their points."
With about eight minutes left, the Giants went to the no-huddle, and suddenly the Eagles looked gassed. Westbrook's fumble with 4:11 left in regulation gave the Giants a first down at the Eagles' 33. Three plays later, Manning hit Toomer with a 22-yard touchdown to cut the lead to three.
Continuing with the no-huddle, Manning drove from the Giants' 20 to the Eagles' 17, setting up a 35-yard Jay Feely field goal to send the game into overtime at 24-24. With the help of the no-huddle, Manning completed his final 13 passes. Except for a spiked ball that was eliminated by a booth replay review in the final seconds of regulation, Manning completed his final 13 passes for 153 yards in no huddle.
"I thought the no-huddle helped us because it simplified what Philadelphia was doing on defense," Manning said. "We were lining up and on third downs, we tried to pick up their blitz. They had two safeties coming to the line of scrimmage and we didn't know which one was coming. It was a guessing game. It helped us. It wasn't real complicated what we were doing. We were running just a couple of plays."
How simple was it? All Manning had to do on running plays was call one to the right or left depending on what he saw at the line of scrimmage. He had simple pass plays out of three-receiver sets. The Giants were just playing a simple game, and the Eagles were tightening up.
Finally, the Giants ended the Eagles misery with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Burress with 3:11 remaining in overtime.
"It's really frustrating," McNabb said. "The frustrating part about it is the fact we had full control over the whole game and we just continued to let them stick around. They're a team that obviously -- from what we saw today -- if you let them stick around, good things can happen to them. It seemed like everything that went right for us in the first half just didn't go well for us in the second."
The loss was only part of the story for the Eagles. Cornerback Lito Sheppard is out four to six weeks with an ankle injury. His replacement, Roderick Hood, suffered a heel injury and couldn't play the second half. Defensive end Jevon Kearse had to be taken into the locker room in overtime with a knee injury. He will have an MRI Monday, but it could be a significant injury. Deep snapper Mike Bartrum has a knee sprain. Tight end L.J. Smith hurt a shoulder. Wide receiver Brown hurt his hamstring. Guard Shawn Andrews had a subluxation of his shoulder.
It was a nightmarish loss for the Eagles and quite the opposite for the Giants.
"Down 24-7 and things not going your way with the clock working against you, and they were taking some time off the clock on us, this one will be something that we'll remember," Coughlin said.
And one the Eagles will be trying to forget.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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