EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - More than one thesaurus was worn out as writers tried to come up with the best words to describe the Giants' 38-31 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Unbelievable, stunning, devastating...it was all that and more after the Giants didn't hold a 31-10 lead and allowed 28 points in the final 7:28, including DeSean Jackson's game-winning 65-yard punt return on the game's final play.
But as difficult as it was for the Giants to comprehend, accept and discuss, we'll set aside the stark emotions from the unforgettable game and examine it strictly through a numbers prism. Because the way in which the game ended was contrary to long-established statistical norms by both the Giants and the rest of the teams in the NFL.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, more than 3,000 NFL games have been played in which a team held a lead of at least 21 points in the fourth quarter. The Eagles' comeback marked just the ninth time in league history a team trailed by that margin in the final quarter and won. The Giants have been on the wrong end of the last two such comebacks. On Nov. 26, 2006, they led in Tennessee early in the fourth quarter, 21-0, but succumbed to a late rally and lost to the Titans, 24-21.
When the Giants hold a fourth-quarter lead, they usually put the other team away. Even after Sunday's outcome, they are 50-5 under Tom Coughlin in games in which they own the lead after three quarters. They had won their last 15 games with the advantage entering the final quarter, including all eight this season. In his 15 years as an NFL head coach, Coughlin is 105-17 in games in which his teams lead after three quarters.
As thrilling as they are, fourth-quarter comebacks are not that common in the NFL. Teams holding the lead entering the fourth quarter are 180-35 (.837) this season.
The Giants defied several other statistical standards. Before Sunday, they were 5-0 this season and 37-10 under Coughlin when leading after the first quarter. They had been 7-0 and 48-9 when leading at halftime, as they were Sunday. Also they had been 6-0 and 55-25 when they committed fewer than three turnovers (they had two Sunday), 5-0 and 26-3 when they had three or more takeaways (they had three vs. the Eagles) and 5-0 and 38-7 when the turnover differential was in their favor.
*The game Sunday was the first time the Giants allowed 28 points in the fourth quarter and 35 points in the second half since Oct. 22, 1967, when Green Bay overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit by scoring 10 points in the third quarter and 28 in the fourth in Yankee Stadium. The Packers won that game, 48-21, and went on to win their second straight Super Bowl.
*The Giants have a chance to achieve a rare double this season. They have allowed only 15 sacks, tying them with the Indianapolis Colts for the NFL lead. The 15 sacks are half the league average of 30.8.
While the offense protects Eli Manning (who recently played five consecutive games without a sack), the defense continues to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The unit recorded three sacks of Michael Vick on Sunday, to increase the Giants' season total to 42 sacks. That is 10 more sacks than their total for the entire 2009 season and just two less than the league-leading San Diego Chargers.
The Giants could become the first team to have the highest sack total on defense and allow the fewest sacks on offense since the 1992 New Orleans Saints, who gave up only 15 sacks in 16 games while bringing down opposing quarterbacks 57 times. That Saints team went 12-4 but lost a home NFC Wild Card Game to Philadelphia. The Giants' record for fewest sacks allowed in a 16-game season is 24 in 2002. Their record for the most sacks in a 16-game season is 68 in 1985.
*The next time Eli Manning throws three touchdown passes in a game, Coughlin might consider ordering him to do nothing but hand off the ball until time expires. On Sunday, Manning matched his career high when he threw four touchdown passes. But the Giants fell to 2-3 in those games. However, when he throws "just" three touchdown passes, the Giants are 13-2.
*Manning has thrown 28 touchdown passes this season. He needs two more to become just the second quarterback in franchise history with 30. Y.A. Tittle threw a franchise-record 36 touchdown passes in 1963 and 33 in 1962. Fran Tarkenton passed for 29 scores in 1967. Manning's total is the highest by a Giant since then.
*Hakeem Nicks leads the Giants with 75 receptions for 959 yards and 10 touchdowns. Nicks needs 51 yards to become the 10th player (and ninth wide receiver) in Giants history with 1,000 receiving yards in a season. He needs three touchdown receptions to tie Homer Jones' franchise record of 13, set in 1967.
*Kevin Boss caught his 18th touchdown pass from Manning on Sunday is now on the list of receivers who have caught the most scoring passes from the quarterback:
Manning Touchdown Passes – Top 5 Targets
*Ahmad Bradshaw is second in the NFC and sixth in the NFL with 1,182 rushing yards.
*Terrell Thomas is tied for fourth in the conference and sixth in the league with five interceptions.
*The Giants continue to lead the NFL in both takeaways (34, including a league-high 19 fumble recoveries) and giveaways (35, tied with Minnesota).
*The Giants will clinch a postseason berth with a win in Green Bay on Sunday.