Rich Hofmann: Trying to make sense of Eagles-Giants differences

Giants quarterback Eli Manning is often maligned but has a history of making big plays in big spots.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning is often maligned but has a history of making big plays in big spots. (Associated Press)
Posted: January 17, 2012

FIRST TIM TEBOW lost on Saturday night, then the New York Giants won on Sunday night. In Philadelphia, there really is no God.

The worst winner of the NFC East in memory, the Giants are nonetheless ticketed for the NFC Championship Game Sunday at San Francisco after a 37-20 upset of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. That nobody saw it coming goes without saying.

The hardest part is figuring out what it means.

With that, on to the questions.

By the transitive property of sports - which, even though it doesn't work like the transitive property of mathematics, doesn't prevent it from being invoked with alacrity - doesn't this mean that the Eagles could just as easily have found themselves in the NFC Championship Game if they had managed one more win along the way?

In a word, no.

This isn't about the defense, either. The truth is that the Green Bay offense just played lousy football, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and that it came out of nowhere after their 15-1 regular season, and that the Giants had a lot less to do with it than the Packers did. That isn't to demean the Giants' defense. It is just what happened.

That failure did, though, provide the Giants with their opening - and quarterback Eli Manning and the New York offense stormed through it at the end. You look at the final score and you might forget that it was still a one-score game with 8 minutes to go - such is how things unraveled for the Packers.

Again, though, the point: If Rodgers is as accurate as normal, if the Packers don't drop six or eight passes (depending upon who is doing the counting) and don't turn the ball over four times against a defense that forced only a middling number of fumbles during the season and showed no hints of being dominant, it's a total shootout.

In that case, the Giants might not have won it but they would have been in it at the end - because of Eli. The Eagles and Michael Vick would not necessarily have been able to take advantage in the same way in 2011. Again, that isn't to demean anybody. It is just the truth.

Which means, well, what?

People in Philadelphia love to hate Eli, and they love it when he makes That Face after something goes wrong, and they find it hard to believe that he is an elite quarterback (mostly because they have seen him look bad often enough over the years; mostly because they have seen him twice a season since he was a rookie).

But he is an elite quarterback and this is just another example. The Giants' run to the Super Bowl in 2007 is public record - you can look it up online and everything - and this is starting to look eerily similar.

He has thrown six touchdown passes and only one interception in two playoff games so far this year. His passer rating in the two games is 121.8. There are only eight quarterbacks in history who have finished a postseason with a better rating. Eli could make it nine and Tom Brady (137.6 so far this year) could make it 10.

But that's it. It's a funny list. It includes great names such as Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Troy Aikman, Kurt Warner and Phil Simms. It also includes Pat Ryan and Rodney Peete, who threw up a 124.2 for the Eagles in the 1995 playoffs. Being on the list itself does not transfer elite status.

But to make more than one long playoff run as an underdog . . . to win two playoff games at Lambeau Field . . . to excel again and again in the moment . . . put it this way: nobody can consider it a fluke anymore.

But haven't the Giants been legendary gaggers at the end of seasons under coach Tom Coughlin? What about your "in the moment" business then?

It is a fair question. The Giants should be asking themselves why they aren't better more often. But that doesn't change the notion that they again are seizing their opportunity.

Under Andy Reid, the Eagles have been great front-runners (until the NFC Championship Game, when they have won one out of five times, with three of the four losses coming as the betting favorite). But they really have made only one mini underdog run, in 2008, winning as a three-point favorite at Minnesota and as a four-point underdog at the Giants before coughing it up as the favorite at Arizona.

Some people are inclined to blame Donovan McNabb, but it is more complicated than that (including several big defensive failures). For more than a decade under Reid, the Eagles have continued to search for "it," whatever "it" is. They have changed everything except the head coach, and they are going to give it one more shot.

But this can no longer be denied: When Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie talks about making the tournament and then anything can happen, he is not talking about his team. He is talking about the Giants.

That is what this means.


Send email to

hofmanr@phillynews.com, or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

www.philly.com/TheIdleRich. For recent columns go to

www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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