The fourth-quarter comeback has become the Giants' signature event this season. Five times they have rallied from a late deficit or tie to win a game. They came up short last week in San Francisco, but when the Giants had a first down at the Philadelphia Eagles' 21-yard line with 1:25 remaining Sunday night, it seemed that San Francisco would be merely a brief interruption in a string of inspiring victories.
But it was not to be. Instead, the Giants got another lesson that waiting until the game's final few minutes to play at a high level is risky business. Eli Manning was sacked by Jason Babin and fumbled. The ball was recovered by Derek Landri, effectively dooming the Giants to their second straight loss.
To Tom Coughlin, the fumble was one of the last disappointing moments on a night in which he considered his team's play to be unfathomably poor. After the 17-10 loss had dropped the Giants to 6-4 and out of sole possession of first place in the NFC East, Coughlin was in no mood to spare anyone's feelings.
"That is the biggest disappointment that we have had around here in a long time," Coughlin said. "I didn't like the way we played. I know our offensive line was completely outplayed by the front eight of Philadelphia. Our defense did some good things in the first half, but the second half was not very good and not what you like. Top it off by putting ourselves in position to tie the game and go into overtime and again we have penetration, breakdowns in protection, somebody gets beat and the quarterback doesn't see him. We didn't protect the ball and the ball comes out, so the opportunity to give ourselves a touchdown there with overtime coming forward doesn't happen.
"I am very disappointed because coming out of San Francisco the talk was - by the players - we will fight, we will fight, we will play hard and we will do all those things. I didn't see that."
Nor did Manning attempt to look for positives in the team's worst offensive performance of the season.
"It wasn't a good game," Manning said. "We didn't have our best effort out there. I don't know why. I wish I had a reason. They played well, they played better than we did, and it is unfortunate."
It is, because the Giants are now tied with Dallas for first place in the division. They play at New Orleans next Monday night before returning home to face undefeated Green Bay.
They'll likely have a hard time competing in those games if they repeat some of the numbers they posted against Philadelphia. Like season lows of 278 yards and 12 first downs. And most alarmingly, only 29 rushing yards, their lowest total since Nov. 20, 2006 at Jacksonville. With Ahmad Bradshaw sidelined again with a fractured bone in his foot, Brandon Jacobs led the Giants with a mere 21 yards on 12 attempts– he averaged 1.8 yards a carry.
"(That) is about as pathetic as it can get," Coughlin said. "It was a very poor performance."
"It was absolutely pathetic," Jacobs said. "It was the worst I have ever experienced in my seven years. We were top three in the league and now we are like 40th.
"We didn't want it as badly as they did. There's no explanation for a game like that. We didn't play that well and they wanted it more with their backs up against the wall and they came right at us."
The Giants did have a few positive performances. Victor Cruz caught six passes for 128 yards and their only touchdown. First-round draft choice Prince Amukamara made his NFL debut with five tackles and an interception. Rookie Mark Herzlich started at middle linebacker and had four solo tackles.
But those stories were buried beneath the lead, which was the Giants' poor play.
"It's very disappointing," said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who led the Giants with seven tackles (six solo), including three for losses. "The only bright side that I can think of is that we still have a lot of games to play. As long as we come back strong with a better mindset, get ready to play tougher then we can still control our destiny going down the stretch. But we can't put too many quarters like that together and expect to be successful."
The Eagles scored on Alex Henery's 33-yard field goal and Vince Young touchdown passes of 14 yards to Steve Smith and eight yards to Riley Cooper. The latter occurred with 2:45 remaining and ended an 80-yard drive on which the Eagles owned the ball for 18 plays and 8:51. They converted all six of their third down opportunities in the series, including the touchdown. One of them was an 18-yard pass to Cooper on third-and-10.
"Third down is a money down, especially for the DBs," Amukamara said. "We have to make a play and get off the field. And we didn't make a play."
The Giants began the ensuing possession at their own nine-yard line (after Greg Jones' holding penalty on the kickoff return). On third-and-three from the 32, Manning threw a short pass to Cruz, who turned on the jets and picked up 47 yards on the play. Despite all that had gone wrong, the Giants had a shot.
But Manning was flushed from the pocket and lost the ball when Babin clubbed it from his hand. Two plays later, LeSean McCoy took off on a 60-yard yard that ended any hopes of a miracle finish.
"(I) just moved up in the pocket," Manning said. "Was looking down the middle, trying to get (Jake) Ballard down the middle. I knew it wasn't going to be there so I was trying to get my eyes back to (Mario) Manningham. We had him on a little underneath route and I was going to throw it to him. As I was going through that thinking process, that is when I got hit from behind. I need to do a better job holding onto the ball in that circumstance."
Manning and Cruz had teamed up for the Giants' other big moment in the game, a 24-yard touchdown pass that tied the score at 10-10 with 11:36 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On second-and-10, Manning took the snap and drifted left to give himself both time and space. He signaled for Cruz to continue to the end zone, where the second-year receiver caught the ball two steps ahead of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for his team-high fifth touchdown catch of the season.
The score capped a five-play, 73-yard drive that featured a 47-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks up the right sideline. That advanced the ball to the 24. After an incompletion, Manning found Cruz for the touchdown.
The Giants trailed, 10-3, at the end of a first half in which they gained only 86 yards – 19 on the ground.
It was the third consecutive game in which the Giants did not score a first-half touchdown.
Lawrence Tynes' season-long 48-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter was the Giants' only score.
After Smith's touchdown, the Giants took possession at their own 20 with 1:22 remaining. They moved 50 yards in seven plays prior to the field goal, the longest a 21-yard pass to Cruz on the drive's first play. Manning's 10-yard pass to D.J. Ware put the Giants in field goal range with five seconds remaining. But Ware suffered a concussion on the play and did not return.
Smith scored the only touchdown of the half on a 14-yard pass from Young, a play set up by DeSean Jackson's 51-yard punt return. Jackson fielded Steve Weatherford's punt at the Philadelphia 35-yard line, crossed to the right side of the field and ran up the sideline until he was knocked out of bounds at the Giants' 14.
On the next play, Smith lined up on the right side, ran to his left, caught Young's pass at the 12 and ran into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season and a 10-0 lead.
Henery had scored the game's first points on a 33-yard field goal with 11:31 remaining in the second quarter. After a Giants punt, Philadelphia drove 50 yards in seven plays before the field goal. The longest play on the drive was a 32-yard pass down the left side to Jackson, which moved the Eagles to the Giants' 38. Two plays later, McCoy's 13-yard run gave Philadelphia a first down at the 18. But the drive stalled at the 14 and Henery came on to kick the field goal.
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