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By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Eagles had been walking a nebulous cord between being fantastic and frustrating over their first three games. The game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday night was supposed to be a good indicator where this team would tilt.
That direction is leaning toward something good.
Thanks to the blocking of Todd Herremans, Brent Celek and Stanley Havili, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s end zone interception, LeSean McCoy’s shifty running, four Alex Henery field goals and a balanced attack.
It all added up to a dramatic Eagles’ 19-17 victory over New York and a 3-1 record, giving the Eagles eight wins in their last nine games over the Giants and sole possession of first place in the NFC East (2-1 Dallas hosts Chicago Monday night).
The Eagles skirted a number of scares and a rash of interference penalties to escape. An offensive pass interference call against Giants’ receiver Ramses Barden proved to be the difference on Lawrence Tynes’ 54-yard field goal attempt landing a few yards short with :15 left to play.
But it was Eagles’ coach Andy Reid that supplied an added jolt to the Lincoln Financial Field frenzied faithful when he called timeout just before Tynes was about to kick, negating a horribly missed first attempt. Tynes’ second attempt was on course, though came about five yards short.
“When you’re surrounded by 66,000 people that wanna probably rip your throat out at that time, yeah, that’s about 20-fold what Custer felt,” Reid joked about regretting the timeout. “Are there things we can get better at, yeah, there are. There are things we actually got better at during the game. I thought the offensive line progressively found themselves as the game went in both the run game and the pass game. They were able to block obviously well enough to where McCoy had very few yards in the first half and came back and had big numbers at the end. We certainly have to do better on the kickoff coverage team, because we were nowhere near good enough. We won the turnover battle but lost the field position battle.”
A pair of pass interference calls, against Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, on the Giants’ final series rattled the Eagles, too. The Giants had the ball at the Philadelphia 27, when Barden threw aside Asomugha, pushing New York back to the Eagles’ 36. An Eli Manning incompletion set up the final tense moments when Tynes missed.
The Eagles averted continuous problems with spotty special teams play. David Williams ripped through the Eagles for 217 return yards, giving New York solid field position most of the game.
Philadelphia’s rare balance combated that. McCoy finished with 123 yards on 23 carries, 121 yards coming in the second half, while Michael Vick was a solid 19-for-30 passing for 241 yards and a touchdown.
“I think it’s easier on everyone when the run game is clicking, it doesn’t allow the defense to tee-off and pin their ears back; it’s something they want to do and you just can’t allow them to do that,” Vick said. ”If you give them the liberty to free rush the passer, they’re going to knock you down, they’re going to hit you. Balance is good. That’s a good defense. You just have to take what the opposition gives you and don’t force it. This [victory] means a lot, it means a lot to be on top of this division.”
As for Vick, he may have answered a few questions himself. There were some rumblings about his decision-making. The Eagles entered the game minus-6 in takeaway/giveaway ratio, with 12 turnovers in their first three games, nine alone by Vick (6 INTs, 3 lost fumbles). But Vick admitted there may have been some rusty residue over missing the preseason, and said he’s been able to push doubts aside by staying positive.
“I just played smarter,” Vick said. ”The thing about this game, you have to let it come. You can’t listen to what everybody says and what’s being said about you. Everyone doesn’t agree with how you play or how you win. What’s most important is what happens internally within the organization and what we know. We just stay to positive. You have to. If I listened to you guys [in the media] I’d be a wreck. I just try to stay positive.”
With their first possession of the second half, the Eagles began establishing a ground game. They had a chance to put some distance on the Giants, who were playing without starting wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (knee) and starting right tackle David Diehl (knee), after McCoy exploded for 34 yards running right, behind Herremans, and followed Herremans right again for another 22 yards to the Giants’ one-yard.
But that is where the series stalled. Two runs right were stuffed for nothing and then a run left resulted in another stalemate. So the Eagles had to settle for a 20-yard field goal.
The Eagles did discover something, however. The Giants were tiring. They weren’t able to cover the edges, unable to stop McCoy from slicing through them.
“This was a big win for us,” said McCoy, who had six carries for two yards in the first half. “I think it was just a matter of time before I got free. They’re a good defense. They have a good front, but eventually, I thought that they would crack. They got tired and we kept going. Our offensive line did a great job just getting on their blocks. They all came together and played really well. We fight, no matter who it is, or who we’re going against, we fight.”
Failing to score a touchdown stung Philadelphia on that first second-half drive. Because on the Giants’ ensuing series, Manning put together an 8-play, 57-yard drive resulting in Eagle-killer Victor Cruz hauling in a 14-yard touchdown pass, tying the score at 10-10.
Manning threaded a perfect pass between Eagles’ linebacker DeMeco Ryans and rookie defensive back Brandon Boykin. A diving Ryans just missed swatting the Manning pass, but was a second too late.
The Eagles took a 7-3 lead in a forgettable first half. On their last possession of the half, Vick engineered a 70-yard, 11-play drive that concluded when he hit a wide-open DeSean Jackson in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown—Jackson’s first this season.
However, Manning and the Giants responded with a 10-play, 87-yard drive that resulted in a Tynes’ 25-yard field goal with :05 left in the half.
For the third time this season, the defense staved off a late charge. The Eagles stopped the Browns, the Ravens and now the Giants, who all had a chance to win on the final possession. The Eagles’ defense has been especially efficient on third down, where they’ve allowed teams to convert a scant 12-of-42 third downs.
No, the Eagles haven’t looked pretty reaching 3-1 by a winning margin of four points. But they are 3-1 with far more certainty as to who they are after beating the Giants on Sunday.
Reid’s Records … Andy Reid improved his career record against the Giants to 17-13, including wins in eight of their last nine contests … The Eagles have won 13 of their last 19 primetime games, (eight of their last 12) … Since 2000, the Eagles are 43-22-1 in games immediately following a loss (.659). Only Pittsburgh (.667) and New England (.711) have better records during that span … For the fourth straight year, the Eagles have defeated the Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football … The last time the Eagles had three wins of two points or less was in 1990. They have done so in three of four games this year. Prior to this season, the most two-point wins the Eagles ever had in a season under Andy Reid was one.
Captain Comeback … QB Michael Vick improved his record to 9-2 against the NFC East as the Eagles starting quarterback (3-1 vs. NYG). His career regular season record as a starting quarterback is 56-38-1 (.595) … According to Pro Football Reference, Vick is the fourth quarterback since 1960 to lead his team to a fourth-quarter comeback win in three of the first four games of the season (Terry Bradshaw in 1979, Brett Favre in 1999, Vinny Testaverde in 2000) … Vick completed 19 of 30 passes for 241 yards and one touchdown, while adding 49 yards on the ground. In doing so, he moved past Norm Van Brocklin and into eighth on the team’s all-time passing yards list with 7,553. He also eclipsed Adrian Burk for 10th place in team history with 963 attempts as an Eagle.
Action Jackson … WR DeSean Jackson led the team with six receptions for 99 yards and his sixth career touchdown against the Giants (three receiving, two punt returns, one rushing). The Eagles are 4-1 in games when he scores against the Giants … Jackson now has 4,774 scrimmage yards in his career, moving past Tom Woodeshick and Ben Hawkins and into 14th place in franchise history … Michael Vick’s passer rating when throwing to Jackson this season is 91.2 (20-38-333, 1 TD). Tonight his rating when throwing to Jackson was 140.5 (6-9-99, 1 TD).
Giant Killer … RB LeSean McCoy posted his 11th career 100-yard rushing performance (fourth against the Giants; 3-1 in those games) after compiling 123 yards on 23 carries … McCoy now has 649 yards and three touchdowns on 115 carries (5.6 average) in his seven career games against the Giants. In the fourth quarter of those games, he has racked up 315 yards on 34 carries (9.3 average) with two touchdowns … McCoy had just two yards on six carries in the first half and 121 yards the rest of the way, which was his second-highest output ever in a single half (134 on 12/12/10 at Dallas) … McCoy now has 4,684 career scrimmage yards, moving into 16th on the team’s all-time list.
Offensive Quick Hits … Over his last 15 games, TE Brent Celek has accumulated 71 receptions for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns. His 315 yards this season are the most he has ever had through the first four games … The Eagles offense has netted 1,672 yards this year which is the fourth-highest total through four games in team history … The last time the offense committed no turnovers in a game was on 10/30/11 in a 34-7 win vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
Defensive Nuggets … The Eagles defense has held opponents to 4-12 in the red zone this season, while also limiting them to a 28.6% third-down conversion rate (12 for 42 on the season, two for 10 tonight), which ranks fourth in the NFL. Under Reid (since 1999), the Eagles are second in the NFL behind the Baltimore Ravens, limiting the opposition to a 34.6% clip … CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked up his 16th career interception. He is tied for second in the NFL with three interceptions in 2012.
Rattling Opposing QBs … The Eagles are ranked third in the NFL in opposing QB rating this season with a paltry mark of just 65.6. Only Chicago (62.1) and St. Louis (64.2) rank better in that category. The Eagles defense has allowed just a 52.4% completion percentage, while intercepting six passes … By comparison, the Eagles opposing QB rating in 2011 was 85.7 and 80.8 in 2010. The last time the Eagles finished a season with this low of a number was in 1992 (64.8).
Birdseed … K Alex Henery set a career high by making all four of his field goal attempts, including a season-long 48 yarder and a game-winning 26 yarder with 1:49 to play … P Mat McBriar became the fifth Eagle ever to wear the jersey number 1 and the first since Gary Anderson in 1996.