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Monday, December 18, 2006

Giants dive for Birds-Eagles win 36-22

Eagles give Giants taste of own medicine, 36-22
The visiting Eagles used two late fourth-quarter touchdowns to bump the Giants back down to .500 making the playoff question mark larger.

Newsday Staff Writer

December 17, 2006, 10:47 PM EST

The Giants still control their own playoff fate. Yet how can anyone expect them to maintain control after playing the way they did Sunday?

With a chance to solidify a playoff position in front of a home crowd and against a hated opponent, the Giants came up small. Their 36-22 loss wasn't decided until Eagles defensive end Trent Cole intercepted Eli Manning's pop-up pass and danced 19 yards into the end zone with 2:47 to play, but the Giants (7-7) already had killed themselves in a game the Eagles (8-6) were begging them to take.

Manning was intercepted twice and the Giants lost two fumbles. The defense, charged with holding a 22-21 lead with 6:59 to play, allowed an 80-yard drive in easy fashion to give the lead back. The Giants' offense failed twice on first-and-goal situations, as it did against the Cowboys in a similarly important home game two weeks ago. Again, getting field goals instead of touchdowns was costly.

Still, thanks to the weak NFC, the Giants still can make the postseason by winning their final two games, against the Saints at home Sunday and against the Redskins on the road. And even a split might be good enough, depending on what other contenders do.

"Right now, we're not playing like a playoff-caliber team, especially with the mistakes we're making," said Tiki Barber, who had an 11-yard TD run on the Giants' second play from scrimmage but only 64 yards on 18 carries after that. "The way we played, we're destined to be a .500 team. There's a lot of mediocrity in the NFC. And we're certainly in that class."

The Giants trailed 14-10 at the half and clawed into the lead with a pair of short Jay Feely field goals, the second a 24-yarder after the Giants got the ball at the Eagles' 7 after Will Demps' sack and forced fumble, which Antonio Pierce recovered.

On the ensuing kickoff, Reno Mahe went 64 yards untouched to the 36. Two plays later, on third-and-2 from the 28, the Eagles used a timeout and came back with a four-wide-receiver set. Tom Coughlin said his defense had the play called correctly, anticipating a run, but Brian Westbrook sped through a gap in the left side of the line and went 28 yards for a 21-16 .Eagles lead with 12:36 to play.

"There's no excuse for that," Coughlin said. "We've got a call to stop the run. We're thinking run."

The Giants were thinking it most of the day, but they did little to stop Westbrook (19 carries, 97 yards, two TDs) and Correll Buckhalter (eight carries, 48 yards, one TD). The Eagles were the ones who came into the game with a porous run defense, but they were far stingier.

Still, even after Visanthe Shiancoe fumbled the ball away after picking up a first down on a short pass, the Giants came back to take the lead. Demps picked off Jeff Garcia, who rolled away from trouble most of the game, and the Giants were in business at the Eagles' 35. A pass-interference call gave the Giants a third first-and-goal situation, and Brandon Jacobs, who hadn't played since fumbling after a 12-yard gain in the second quarter, bulled in on his second try from a yard out.

The two-point conversion failed, but that didn't matter. Trailing 22-21, the Eagles needed only 4:02 to go 80 yards and take the lead back. Already well in field-goal range, Garcia and the Eagles stayed aggressive, calling a play-action fade route on second down from the 19 that Reggie Brown hauled in behind R.W. McQuarters in the right side of the end zone.

Still, the Giants had the ball at their 20, 2:57 on the clock and two timeouts. But on the first play, Manning didn't see Sheldon Brown coming on a corner blitz, and Brown hit him as he threw. The floater fell into Cole's arms after Barber unsuccessfully tried to bat it down, and by the time he reached the end zone, the game was over.

"He should have seen it," Coughlin said of Manning, who completed 28 of 40 for 282 yards and two interceptions after going two games without a pick. "It's just one of those key plays that could have been key [for us] in the game."

Coughlin's postgame speech was positive, according to several players. The message was clear: No finger-pointing, no head-hanging, because there still are two games to play.

Those games will decide the fate of the team -- and the coaches.

"There's no feeling sorry for ourselves. Anything we did, we caused for ourselves," Coughlin said. "We're going to work and play as hard as we can and see if we can't win the next two games and see what happens."

It sounds like a plan. But the Giants haven't shown much reason to have faith.

"Considering what was at stake, how close we were to taking great steps toward the playoffs," Barber said, "we took an enormous step back."

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