Eagles clicked on all levels in this one

Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is dragged down for a loss by Eagles safety Quintin Mikell (right). The Eagles' defense held the Giants' usually potent running attack to 88 yards.
Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is dragged down for a loss by Eagles safety Quintin Mikell (right). The Eagles' defense held the Giants' usually potent running attack to 88 yards.
Posted: December 08, 2008

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Jim Johnson squinted through the gusting wind yesterday and saw something familiar, something he hadn't seen lately.

"I think we looked like a football team on all three sides of the ball," Johnson, the Eagles' veteran defensive coordinator, said. "This was a big win for us. We had to win to stay in the playoff hunt."

Desperation has a fascinating effect on people. The Eagles' season dangles by the most frayed of threads. There is no time or tolerance now for conceits about offensive philosophy or for self-delusion. A team that has frittered winnable games away all season showed up at Giants Stadium with a simple mission.

Take the game. Line up against the defending Super Bowl champions on their home field and take the game.

"They pushed us," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said.

He meant the Eagles' offensive line, which took to the rare opportunity to run-block the way sharks take to flailing, wounded fish.

"That was just a very physical win," left tackle Tra Thomas said. "We just kept putting a body on a body. We just have to push, man. It was just a good, physical win. You just keep pounding on them and that was that."

Four weeks ago, it was the Giants who pushed the Eagles around, the Giants who ran all over Lincoln Financial Field in a 36-31 victory. This wasn't just about committing to the running game, it was about the rudiments of football - blocking, tackling, toughness. It was about beating the other team up a little, too.

The wind had something to do with Andy Reid's reliance on the run game. But you suspect the need to reestablish a physical personality was in there, too.

"I think Coach was trying to make a statement, that he has a tough football team," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "He took a lot of heat in the previous matchup where they ran the ball on us. I think he wanted to make it a point of emphasis to be the more physical team and run the football."

While Brian Westbrook was carrying the ball a career-high 33 times, the Eagles' defense was holding the Giants' high-scoring, run-first offense in check. A month after scoring 36 points at the Linc, the Giants needed a blocked-field-goal return and a two-minute desperation drive to put 14 on the board.

"The memory was short," Johnson said. "It was only about four weeks ago. We said that wasn't Eagle football. We've got to stay in the game. We've got to win one series at a time. I think it was a personal challenge."

"We take pride in the things we do," defensive end Trent Cole said. "We don't like to lose. We don't like it when people run on us and beat us down. We want to go out there and be the penetraters and dominate our opponents."

On offense, the line was freed to pound on the Giants. On defense, the front seven was able to smother the run game and then pressure Eli Manning into the kind of game he specialized in before being anointed with greatness last winter.

"I thought we've always been a good defensive football team," Brown said. "The bigger picture is the offensive guys are executing and playing the way they know how to play. They're helping us tremendously."

That's not entirely accurate. The Eagles' defense allowed 41 points in a loss to Dallas and 36 to the Giants last time. That is not good enough. But there's also no doubt it's easier to play defense when the offense controls the ball and the clock.

Fans couldn't be blamed if they thought Fox inadvertently showed an Eagles-Giants game from 1988 or so - with Reid playing the role of Bill Parcells.

"We all have to evolve," Thomas said.

Running and stopping the run. It seems obvious on a cold and windy day. But it seemed obvious last year, when the Eagles played a Sunday night game here without Thomas, Westbrook or L.J. Smith. That was the night Winston Justice started at left tackle and made Osi Umenyiora into a household name because Reid just kept passing.

There's no margin left for that kind of error. Not for these Eagles, not this season. They have a two-game winning streak that has to reach five for them to have a shot at the playoffs.

The hard truth?

"We put ourselves in this position," Brown said.

"We should have won the first game" against the Giants, Donovan McNabb said. "The losses that we've had, we should have won those as well."

The Eagles have clung to the belief they are a good team in spite of some bad losses. Two things became clear yesterday. They may be right, and if they are, that only makes those losses worse.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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