*The Giants fell to the Eagles, 24-29, Sunday at MetLife Stadium: *
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –The Giants went toe-to-toe Sunday against the team with the best record in the NFC, but too many missteps left them with another tough loss in a game they believe they could have won.
The final score in MetLife Stadium was 34-29 in favor of the 12-2 Philadelphia Eagles, who swept the season series and beat the Giants for the seventh time in eight meetings. The Giants had a chance to win the game in the final moments, driving from their own 20 to the Eagles' six-yard line. But after a false start penalty, Eli Manning's 11-yard pass to Evan Engram was high, as the home team fans pleaded for a pass interference penalty on safety Corey Graham that was never called, and the Giants fell to 2-12.
"That drive at the end was special," said interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo, whose team held a 13-point lead in the second quarter. "We all were hoping for a memorable score and a memorable game, and a lot of what could have been. But a 2-11 team beating an 11-2 on the last play would have been special. It didn't happen.
"If that is the best team in the NFC, which it might very well be, then we went out there and exchanged punches with the best and almost came away with a win. But we didn't."
Unfortunately, that's the story of the season for the Giants. This wasn't quite as dramatic as the Eagles' 27-24 victory on Sept. 24 when Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yard field goal as time expired. But it hurt the Giants just as much.
"I don't know if you take much away from it (close loss to the NFC East-champion Eagles)," Manning said. "I think, who got the win? I think you can take away, hey, we're competing, we're moving the ball offensively, doing some good things. We've just got to keep working, finding ways to finish though. We're close, there at the five-yard line. You want to be in those situations and we expect to make those plays next time."
Manning made a lot of them during the game. He had his most productive day of the season with 37 completions in 57 passes for 434 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Sterling Shepard caught 11 passes for 139 yards, including a 67-yard score. Tavarres King scored on both of his receptions, one of them a 57-yarder. Engram had a season-high eight catches.
The Giants scored touchdowns on each of their first three offensive possessions for the first time since a loss to Dallas on Nov. 23, 2014. But after scoring 23 points in the first half, they were limited to six in the second half, none in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Nick Foles – who started his first game in place of the injured Carson Wentz – was one up on Manning with four touchdown passes, one each to Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Trey Burton. Elliott added field goals of 28 and 20 yards.
After the game, the Giants lamented their mistakes. They inexplicably had an extra point try, a field goal attempt and a punt…all blocked. Had Aldrick Rosas kicked a 48-yard field goal instead of the ball being blocked by Malcom Jenkins, the Giants would have led early in the fourth quarter, 32-31.
Manning had a second-quarter pass for Roger Lewis, Jr. intercepted by cornerback Ronald Darby, who returned it 37 yards to the Giants' 20. Five plays later, Foles threw his second touchdown pass.
The Giants went three-and-out, and Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked Brad Wing's punt, enabling the Eagles to follow their 20-yard touchdown drive with an 18-yarder.
Had the Giant not had the placekicks blocked, they would not have had to go for two after they scored to pull within 31-29 late in the third quarter (the effort failed when Manning was sacked). And they likely would have been in a position to kick a game-winning field goal instead of having to desperately throw into the end zone on fourth down.
"The special teams' protection obviously got us in trouble," Spagnuolo said. "Defensive tackling was not good enough. I can remember one third down in particular that we're off the field (if they tackle better). That kills you. You can't turn the ball over against a good football team. They've proven that if you don't turn the ball over against the Eagles, you got a decent chance of winning."
The Giants would not have had to focus on their miscues had they completed their late heroics. The big play on the drive was a 25-yarder to Lewis. The Giants kept chipping away and had a first down at the Philadelphia nine with 1:06 left after a 13-yard pass to Shepard.
It was soon fourth-and-goal from the six. But right tackle Bobby Hart was flagged for a false start, sending the Giants back five yards.
"Obviously, you have more options from the (six)," Manning said. "From the five, we had a different play called where you get four guys in the end zone, five guys in the end zone with a back, possibly. From the 10, it's just tough to get everybody in the end zone with routes and things going. So, yeah, it's unfortunate. I had the false start. It's a tough situation, I don't blame Bobby. At home, it's loud. (Center) Brett Jones couldn't hear me call the cadence. You don't think having that (at home), but I guess when you've only won two games, there's a lot of Eagles fans and they were loud and we couldn't hear the cadence, that's why we jumped offside."
As Engram and Graham made contact in the end zone, the Giants argued for a pass interference call.
"My arm was kind of held, it was obvious," Engram said. "I went up for the ball, it was obvious that he was kind of arm guarding me, but no call. … "I thought it was definitely defensive pass interference. Fourth down, it was really obvious, but there was no call."
"It was tough," Manning said. "There's not a whole lot of great fourth-and-goal from the (11) plays. But I was trying to get him, I had him on a corner route, maybe I was playing some outside leverage, just trying to back shoulder it and give him a chance. Got it in the end zone and there was some contact being made, I don't know, it's tough to know if it's interference, if it's the call or not. You kind of just put it up high and give him a chance to make the play and we didn't make it."
Shepard was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, enabling the Eagles to start the next possession at their 26 instead of the 11. The Giants had all three of their timeouts and forced a punt. But they got the ball at their own 27 with just 13 seconds left – too far away and with too little time.
"Any game you lose hurts," Spagnuolo said. "What we're going to go back and end up thinking about and dissecting is we were ahead early in the game and we let them get back in it. I thought we let them get back in it by mistakes that we made and to their credit, they kept playing and battled their way back and then yeah, the special teams miscues put our backs to the wall. It's tough. It's hard enough. The margin for error is very small for us right now with all the injuries and what we're going through and to be making it easy on an opponent, that hurts."