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Sterling Shepard climbs into top 5 in memorable finale

STERLING-SHEPARD

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The game belonged to the Giants, but the day was all Sterling Shepard's.

The Giants' eight-year wide receiver completed his fourth season as the team's longest-tenured player in a 27-10 season-ending rout of the Philadelphia Eagles in MetLife Stadium.

In what he acknowledged was almost certainly his final game in a Giants uniform, Shepard caught just three passes for 18 yards, the longest a 10-yarder. In context, even those modest numbers were impressive; it was the first time he caught more than one pass in a game since Sept. 26, 2022, the night he tore his ACL against the Dallas Cowboys.

Shepard finished the season 10th on the team with 10 catches for 57 yards and one touchdown. But those statistics mattered little on Sunday, when he received hugs from teammates, coaches and almost everyone else in the postgame locker room, numerous cheers from the Giants' fans in attendance on a cold, cloudy evening, and a game ball from coach Brian Daboll.

"Really just trying to take it all in," an emotional Shepard said at his locker after the game. "Like I told you guys earlier in the week, I knew that this was probably going to be my last time being in this jersey. I just wanted to take it all in with my brothers and enjoy every moment of it, and that's exactly what I did."

Shepard did reach one important milestone. His three catches increased his total to 372, moving him into fifth place on the franchise's career list, one more than Jeremy Shockey.

"It meant a lot," Shepard said. "I grew up watching that guy and it was a special deal being able to get it. It wasn't easy, but my career hasn't been easy. So, I didn't expect it to be any other way, but it was a great feeling."

Shepard was the last player to run out of the tunnel during pregame introductions. Moments later, he joined captains Andrew Thomas and Xavier McKinney at midfield for the pregame coin toss.

The Giants tried to augment Shepard's statistics by getting him one last touchdown. Late in the second quarter, Xavier McKinney intercepted his second pass, giving the Giants possession at the Eagles' 12-yard line with one minute remaining in the half. On the first play, Tyrod Taylor threw into the end zone for Shepard, but the ball was intercepted by Reed Blankenship.

In the third quarter, Shepard had a 6-yard reception nullified by Mark Glowinski's holding penalty. His first catch that counted gained seven yards in the final minute of the quarter.

Late in the game, the Giants had the ball at the Philadelphia 9-yard line when Shepard ran around left end on his only rushing attempt in the game. But he was stopped three yards short of the goal line, and two plays later, Mason Crosby kicked a 21-yard field goal for the Giants' final points.

Shepard also caught passes for one and 10 yards in the fourth quarter.

The first question Daboll fielded at his postgame news conference was about Shepard.

"Good teammate, has a lot of energy," he said. "He's been here for a bit. This is the only team he's played for. This is an important organization to him, but I will just say he's a really good person and a good father. I've got a lot of respect for Shep and toward the end there, we were trying to get him bumped up there, gave him a look pass and I told him younger Shep might have made that guy miss and run in, but it was good."

Shepard's contributions go far beyond his statistics, particularly his willingness to mentor the young receivers who ultimately replaced him on the field.

"I can't say enough good things about him ever since I came in as a rookie," said second-year pro Wan'Dale Robinson, who led the team this season with 60 catches. "That's been my mentor and who I go to ask about anything. I mean, he's been through just about all of it. We did our ACL rehab together and things like that. I can't say enough good things about him. He's a great teammate and a great person."

Which is all he ever wanted to be. Shepard is most proud of being characterized as the epitome of what a Giants player should be, a valued teammate on and off the field.

"It means so much, because that is the reason why I play this game, for those guys," Shepard said. "That's what ex-players will always come back and tell you. They'll tell you that they miss the guys and being around them and the camaraderie, and for guys to be able to compliment me that way is something, that's what I strive for. It means a lot to me.

"I'm just very appreciative of the opportunities that they gave me because they didn't really have to do that. They believed in me, and I tried to put my best foot forward every day trying to fight back from those injuries and thank God, I was able to do that. Thank God that we have the coaching staff that we have and the ownership that we have. I'm very appreciative of those guys."

And they are of him.

*The Giants jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead and dominated a team that had won five consecutive games in the series.

"I thought we got off to a really good start in the first half and played a physical game, made some explosive plays, played complementary football," Daboll said. "I'm just happy for the guys right now. It's a long time between now and the next season, as you all know, so just enjoy this one and proud of the way the guys competed and fought and ultimately made more plays."

"It's a bonus when you're able to beat a division rival, but at the end of the day it's just important to finish the season how we wanted to," running back Saquon Barkley said. "We didn't have the season we want, but we were able to control this last game and how we go out and we all made up in our mind that we wanted to go out on top with a win and we were able to get that."

*Linebacker Bobby Okereke and safety Xavier McKinney participated in all 1,128 defensive snaps this season.

"It means a lot, especially to do it with Xavier," Okereke said. "I have a lot of respect for Xavier as a football player and a man. I've said all year, I love this team. I love these coaches. I love playing football and to play every snap, just means a lot."

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