PHILADELPHIA – "It was a tale of two halves."
That phrase likely predates the forward pass and has described countless football games for almost a century. Pat Shurmur pulled it out Sunday in Philadelphia, after watching his Giants battle the Eagles in Lincoln Financial Field. Like so many clichés, it spoke the truth.
The Giants jumped out to a 16-point lead against their ancient rivals in a first half they dominated statistically. But the second half was an exercise in futility. When it was all added up, the Giants had fallen, 25-22, on a 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining by Jake Elliott – whose 61-yarder as time expired when the Giants were here last year also resulted in a three-point loss for the visitors.
"It started off fast, had some good drives in the first half, close on a couple of other ones," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Second half obviously we didn't execute well enough, had some penalties, had some plays that were close that we just didn't quite make, and unfortunately just kept us from extending some drives and moving the ball and scoring enough points."
"I don't know what changed, honestly," safety Landon Collins said. "They kind of figured something out they just kind of rolled with it from that point on, but I can't give you an answer. I don't know. I got to look at it."
No amount of study will change the fact that the Giants' two-game winning streak ended and they fell to 3-8 on the season. Philly improved to 5-6.
The control of the game actually began moving away from the Giants and toward the Eagles in the second quarter, but the statistical difference between the first and second halves is jarring.
On their first four offensive possessions, the Giants scored on two touchdowns (on Saquon Barkley's 13-yard reception and 51-yard run) and Aldrick Rosas field goals of 25 and 51 yards. The Giants' two-point conversion attempt from the one-yard line following an Eagles penalty failed.
Philadelphia's only score was Elliott's 42-yard field goal, and at the two-minute warning in the second quarter, the Giants owed a 19-3 lead.
When the half ended, the Giants had sizeable leads in plays (36-23), total yards (346-159), first downs (15-8), and time of possession (17:05-12:55). The Giants' numbers in the second half were 21 plays, 46 yards, three first downs, and a time of possession of 10:17. The Eagles owned an advantage of 5:16 at game's end.
Only one of the Giants' five second-half possessions lasted more than five plays, and it ended with Rosas' 21-yard field goal.
"We weren't making the yards we need to on the plays we called, and we had penalties that knocked us off," Shurmur said. "So then you get away from the stuff that you certainly would like to do and that's the deal."
"The Eagles came out and did really well, especially in the second half, they got the win and we didn't find a way to finish," Barkley said.
Barkley provided the Giants' most notable first-half highlight, breaking off his third touchdown run of at least 50 yards this season. It was his eighth rushing touchdown of the season, a Giants rookie record.
"It was a great call first and foremost," Barkley said. "The offensive line blocked it up tremendously. I was able to get a one-on-one, the wide receiver did a great job blocking down field, and I was able to use my speed to find a way to get into the end zone."
When he did, the Giants owned their 16-point advantage. And then the game began slipping away.
The Eagles responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Carson Wentz's 15-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz. Corey Clement's two-point conversion cut the lead to 19-11.
The Giants had a chance to add to their point total before halftime, but Manning's pass for Beckham on second-and-10 from the Eagles' 17-yard line was intercepted by safety Malcolm Jenkins at the two-yard line with four seconds left in the half.
"Bad decision - 100-percent bad decision on me," Manning said. "We were playing soft and just got to throw that away and try for the long field goal."
Shurmur offered a different opinion.
"I'll take that," he said. "We were attacking too deep and that's not on Eli, that's on me."
The only score in the third quarter was Elliott's 28-yard field goal, which cut the Giants' lead to 19-14. Philadelphia took its first lead at 22-19 with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter on Josh Adams' one-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion.
The Giants' offense came to life on the ensuing possession, as Manning passes of 19 yards to Beckham and 29 yards to tight end Rhett Ellison gave them a first down at, symbolically, the Philly 17 at the same end of the field that had earlier resulted in disappointment. But a third-down pass to Beckham fell incomplete as cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc appeared to grab the receiver's jersey; no flags were thrown.
"All good, it's football," said Beckham. "I play receiver, not referee, so all you can do is go out there and control what you can control. I don't control the calls whether it was pass interference or not, it doesn't really matter. Just got to try and make the play."
The Eagles took possession at their own 25 with 5:49 remaining. They converted a fourth-and-two on Wentz's 12-yard pass to Nelson Agholor, which advanced the ball to the 30. The Giants used their final timeout as Philly then ran the ball three times before Elliott's game-deciding field goal.
"It's a loss that was so close," Collins said. "We had the game in the beginning and we just couldn't pull it off and finish the game, and that was the biggest part."
Or, as Shurmur said, it was a tale of two halves.