It was the type of game Brian Dawkins relished: a gut-check victory in which heavyweights traded haymakers, with the defenses winning on all scorecards.
But neither this game nor any future game would ever feature an Eagles #20 on the scorecard—not that any player within the franchise would want that burden.
The most beloved athlete ever seen in Philadelphia fired up the simmering crowd at Lincoln Financial Field with a retirement ceremony that was as intense and inspired as was his entire career.
Dawkins reenacted all his signature warm-up rituals for the salivating thousands: his crawl out of the tunnel, his rendition of the Eagles' fight song and his run through the Eagles line. All harkened back to his frenzy-inspiring play.
When the contest went down to the wire (and then a little past it), everyone watching had to be thinking the same thing.
Not in front of B-Dawk.
In the final moments, the goalposts framed the collective, exposed hearts of the Eagles fanbase. Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes took aim twice and misfired twice. Eagles fans breathed a deep sigh of relief Sunday night—and then did so again.
It was the kind of game won by a team with heart the likes of which Eagles fans have not seen since Dawkins himself last roamed the grass at Lincoln Financial Field.
Last things first
The Eagles kicked a field goal to take a tenuous, 2-point lead with less than two minutes to play. The Giants returned the ensuing kickoff to their own 36-yard line, and then drove into field goal range, aided by two pass interference penalties—one completely bogus, another questionable.
Officials then flagged Giants receiver Ramses Barden for offensive pass interference when Barden half-tackled Nnamdi Asomugha by the head. The ten-yard pushback forced Tynes out of a more comfortable distance, and the Giants elected to try a 54-yard attempt on 3rd down despite having fifteen seconds (but no timeouts) left with which to work.
The kick sailed wide left badly, but fans' celebrations screeched to a halt when it was revealed Andy Reid had called a timeout just before the kick. The potential of losing in such disastrous fashion was palpable. The second kick was right down the middle but just feet short, and the celebrations began again amid adrenaline- fueled palpatations.
To lose because of an “icing” gone bad, bad special-teams coverage and a questionable officiating call would have been a bitter pill to swallow. Twisting the knife in the Giant’s back twice was that much sweeter.
The first half was a tale of two defenses, both of which were too strong for the offenses they opposed. Both teams' ferocious pass-rushers were neutralized early by numerous holding penalties. For as little as the Giants achieved rushing the football, the Eagles did nothing.
The dams were pierced slightly before halftime, with the teams accounting for ten points in the final 2 minutes of the second quarter, but nothing was easy for either offense on this night.
The Giants' run defense seemed glued shut, closing the holes Leshean McCoy targeted before he got there. Uncharacteristically, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg kept pouring water on the seals in the form of McCoy, until that glue gave way in the second half and he gashed them for 121 yards on 17 carries, adding to his first-half totals of 2 yards on six carries.
The Eagles did something else uncharacteristic: they took care of the football. The only turnover of the game was an Eli Manning pass intercepted in the end zone by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie—a huge play.
Commiting to the running game kept the Giants' vaunted pass rush at bay. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick looked much more comfortable, relaxed and decisive in the pocket than he has been at any time this season. Maybe there is some credence to his claim that missing the preseason accounted for his rustiness; he has to play more than one clean game to prove it.
Just as important was the return of Vick’s missing running ability. He looked more spry last night than he had all season. He turned the corner and ran at the right times, so mea culpa on last week's proclamation that he can no longer run effectively. When Vick is able to run, it loosens up the defense for the route-runners, which showed throughout the game.
The balanced play-calling helped Vick immensely. The Eagles' two best games of the year by far were against the Giants and the Ravens, and this balance was prevalent in both contests, approaching a 50-50 split. When the Eagles' offense skews badly towards passing this season, they've beaten a bad team by a single point (Week One in Cleveland) and gotten hammered (Week Three in Arizona).
The Weapon X mentality
The Eagles defense acquitted itself very well again, holding the high-powered Giants offense to 17 points and a 50 percent Red Zone conversion rate (including the DRC endzone interception). They held the Giants to a paltry 57 yards rushing as compared with their own 191 yards on the ground.
The Eagles were almost undone by their Red Zone futility and poor kickoff coverage. Alex Henery deserves a thumbs-up for his four field goals, but they almost were not enough. Time and again, returner David Wilson ran through gaping lanes to give the Giants offense a short field. The Eagles' defense did a great job managing it, but special teams aces, Colt Anderson and Akeem Jordan, cannot return from injury soon enough.
For a fan-base that loves defense, last year’s “soft” play on that side of the ball was painful to watch. This year’s group, so far, has shown signs it can become a top unit fans can be proud to root on. Andy Reid noted the importance of Demeco Ryans' leadership on the Giants' final drive.
The difference between Demeco Ryans at MLB and last year’s starter, Casey Matthews, is a microcosm of the entire defensive units from those two seasons. Last year’s defense knew how to lose games in the fourth quarter. In 2012, this defense preserved three leads in tight games under difficult circumstances.
Giants receiver Victor Cruz had a good game and did his obnoxious “salsa touchown dance” after he slithered into the end zone. As Lawrence Tynes' second field goal attempt fell short, every Eagles fan wanted to say to Cruz, "The music’s stopped. You lost, sit down."
It is early, but the Eagles now occupy first place in the NFC East. With a difficult game upcoming in Pittsburgh, Sunday's victory was almost a must-win, and win they did: with character, heart and just a little luck.