For the first time in a long time, the Eagles were the more physical team on the field. They played on defense with a nasty edge that has been either intermittent or invisible all year. And while it is true that the Giants have brought out the snarl in them for a long time, this was more than that. It was an attitude good for the entire 60 minutes.
"Our mentality was totally different," safety Kurt Coleman said, talking specifically about the Giants' final drive, and the five fourth-quarter leads the Eagles had already blown this season.
"I don't think we were even thinking about losing the game. It was all about getting this game and winning it. Everybody was so pumped up - it was a different feeling, I'll tell you what, and I'm just really excited because this is going to carry over until next week . . .
"Bottom line is, our backs are still against the wall," Coleman said. "We knew coming in to this game that we had to win it - we had to - whether we had to fight our way to it or win it nicely. But it's the Giants. We're always willing to fight the Giants."
The symbol of the night, of that fight, of that snarl, came early. On the Giants' second offensive series, quarterback Eli Manning threw a pass over the middle and never saw linebacker Jamar Chaney lurking in coverage. After Chaney's interception, the next thing Manning didn't see was the tag team of Trevor Laws and Brian Rolle, who roughed him up a little bit on the return, and a little bit illegally. You're really only supposed to hit a quarterback in that situation if he has assumed a defensive posture - meaning he's trying to make the tackle.
A melee broke out after the hit on Manning. Coleman ended up losing his helmet in the scrum. Offsetting penalties were called on both teams, and the next 15 minutes featured approximately two shoving matches per minute.
"That set the tone for the whole game, right there," Laws said. "They don't like to see their quarterback get hit. We do like to see their quarterback get hit. Whenever we play the Giants, it's a fight out there. But the tone was set early and we just rose to the occasion more than they did.
"We weren't taking anything from anybody. You could see it: for a while there, it seemed like there was a scuffle after every play. It was a grudge match. It was serious out there."
It has been so unlike this maddening defense, which has had far too many soft moments. And in the fourth quarter, week after week, it has been as if one bad moment or one bad play would beget another, and then another, in an unstoppable chain of horror.
Last night, finally, the chain was broken. But it began a lot earlier - with a front four that completely manhandled the Giants' offensive line and snuffed their running game, and with the Eagles' willingness to give as good as they got (and more). After one big hit, Rolle sprayed the surroundings with a pantomime of imaginary machine-gun fire in a celebration that the league office will undoubtedly find to be exceedingly cute.
"Their guys got mad that we hit the quarterback, but we just did what we're taught," Rolle said. " . . . It wasn't anything nasty. It wasn't any kind of cheap shots. It was just a block. A couple of blocks. But their guys were mad about it. And some stuff happened. But I remember at halftime, I just said, 'Let's keep doing it.'
"You could tell those guys weren't expecting us to come out and be as physical as we were. We all came out and hit hard, and you could see it took a toll on them."
No one was expecting this kind of physical display. Trying to figure out this bunch has become a municipal obsession. The talk for the last week has been about a lack of identity, and the discussion has been fair. For whatever reason, these Eagles have not been able to put a recognizable imprint on this season. The defense was terrible early in the season, much better lately, but still unable to make a play in the fourth quarter when it mattered.
"New York's always like that," Landri said. "They do dirty things: knee you in the side, take cheap shots. We're not going to put up with that. We're not going to take that and be one of those teams."
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