The image that will forever be burned into the minds of those who watched tonight’s clash for first place in the NFC East between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants is that of LeSean McCoy turning the corner on 4th and 1 from midfield and dashing 50 yards to the end zone, giving the Eagles a 24-17 lead with less than five minutes remaining. Philadelphia went on to win 27-17, but this was a win predicated on defense, not offense.
The Giants brought their top-ranked defense and the best time of possession offense in the league to Lincoln Financial Field, and the team that held the ball 34:03 and had the better defense won. The Eagles turned the tables on their division rivals, forcing five turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Birds offense gained 392 yards – 122 more than the Giants were giving up on average before tonight. More importantly, Philadelphia ran 63 plays that took 34:03 off the clock while the Giants ran just 47 plays in 25:56.
Don’t let the statistics tell the wrong story though, the Eagles didn’t win with an offense that picked up four yards while leaving behind a cloud of dust. They controlled the clock by hanging onto the ball, as the offense turned it over just once while the Giants gave it away five times.
“These games are always like that when we play the Giants, there always seems to be a lot of turnovers,” said Eagles safety Quintin Mikell. “When we go out there, that’s one thing we’re always focused on – getting the ball back for the offense.”
Tonight it wasn’t so much the points off of turnovers that did it, the Eagles kicked three field goals off of turnovers, but the defense was able to seal the win with a late fumble recovery off of Eli Manning. Philadelphia led 24-17 with under three minutes to go after McCoy’s heroics, and New York held the ball at its own 44-yardline on 4th and 6.
Manning scrambled for a first down, but dove forward at the end of the play, fumbling as he hit the ground. Eagles defensive end Darryl Tapp was there to scoop it up, and after a challenge the play stood as it was ruled that Manning was not contacted prior to fumbling.
The play gave the ball back to the offense and the Eagles kicked a game-clinching field goal to win 27-17. While Manning’s fumble was more of an unforced error, the Birds forced four others on the night and were in the right place to capitalize when he put it on the ground in the waning moments.
“They were flying around,” said head coach Andy Reid. “That’s the best way I can put it, because they were very aggressive. [Defensive coordinator] Sean [McDermott] had an unbelievable game plan.”
The Eagles held a 13-3 lead at halftime, thanks to a 4-yard touchdown scramble by Michael Vick on the Birds’ second drive of the game. Vick finished 24-of-38 for 258 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions while running for 34 yards and the score on 11 attempts. Philadelphia added David Akers field goals of 38 and 24 yards in the half, while Lawrence Tynes hit a 24-yarder for the Giants.
In the third quarter, the Eagles once again had to settle for three instead of seven when David Akers put the Birds on top 16-3 with a 28-yarder. The Giants answered with a 9-play, 68-yard drive that ended in a 2-yard touchdown toss from Manning to Travis Beckum on the heels of a 31-yard pass interference penalty on Mikell.
The Giants then gained momentum after Michael Vick’s first turnover as an Eagle and his first since December 24, 2006 when he threw two interceptions as a Falcon against the Panthers.
Vick dropped back on 3rd and 11 from his own 32-yardline and was sacked and stripped by Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who had 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield recovered, and two plays later Manning hit Derek Hagan for a 5-yard strike that gave the Giants a 17-16 lead. Manning finished the game 2o-of-33 for 147 yards, 2 touchdowns 3 interceptions, and a fumble.
Philadelphia’s resiliency was on display, as a key penalty forced a punt on the following drive and an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble was overturned. Instead, the Eagles got the ball back at their own 10-yardline after a punt, down by a point with 7:52 remaining.
The Birds moved the ball to the 50-yardline before being stuck in 4th and 1 with 4:34 remaining. The Eagles, expecting an all-out blitz from the Giants to the inside of the offensive line, called a toss play to the left for LeSean McCoy.
Vick bobbled the snap, but settled it and got rid of the ball a mere instant before Osi Umenyiora arrived, and McCoy had nothing but two blockers, two defenders and plenty of room in front of him. Todd Herremans hit a key block on the safety, and McCoy was off to the races.
“Once I seen Jason [Peters] pulling out, I kind of set the block up,” McCoy said. “I seen [Giants linebacker Michael Boley] on the side. I knew it was over after that.”
McCoy finished with 14 carries for 11 yards. A two-point conversion from Vick to Avant made it 24-17, and an Eli Manning fumble sealed the deal. Now the Eagles sit alone atop the NFC East, one game back of the Atlanta Falcons for first in the conference.
Cornerback Ellis Hobbs left the game with a neck injury after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit and remaining on the field for several minutes before being taken off on a stretcher. Hobbs’ x-rays were negative and he will undergo an MRI in the morning.
Defensive end Juqua Parker’s hip flexor strain bothered him and he did not finish the game.
Follow Ryan Messick on Twitter.