The Giants and the Eagles play them like this all the time. Always important, never pretty, and more like solving a puzzle than anything else. As an object lesson for remembering that things don't have to always go right in order to end well, the Giants are worth considering.
There wasn't any indication the Giants were going to emerge as Super Bowl champions last season after they limped around for most of the season and held a 6-6 record at the close of a hideous four-game losing streak.
They lost to the Eagles in that stretch, managing to do so when Vince Young was the starting quarterback, which isn't easy. Still, the Giants did it, and if they weren't left for dead with just four games to play, they were definitely not a favorite to make more noise than a whimper in the postseason.
Well, we know how that came out - wins over Atlanta, Green Bay, San Francisco, and New England in the playoffs - and a second Super Bowl championship ring for quarterback Eli Manning. With the right roll and the right confidence, the Giants didn't exactly make it look easy, but they made it look like any team that hung around long enough would have the same chance.
The Giants almost spun gold again Sunday night, but a game-winning field goal fell short, and the Eagles escaped with a 19-17 win.
"They definitely know how to win games and were in position except for one missed field goal. But we'll take it," receiver Jason Avant said. "We messed up early in this game, but kept playing. That's the difference mentally from last year's team. We believe the game is not over."
So, that's what you think of when you consider the Eagles this season, and also when you considered their chances in Sunday's game after such a dull beginning. They finally broke onto the scoreboard with their fifth drive of the evening, a 70-yard march that was helped along by a third-down encroachment penalty on Osi Umenyiora, as if to prove that other teams do dumb things at the wrong time, too.
Michael Vick was more careful with ball in the first half than he has been recently, and the Eagles called a few more running plays to lend a little balance to the offense, but, really, the only difference was there weren't any turnovers. They took a couple shots down the field in the first half, but the offense played small ball, using swing passes and underneath routes. It was a patient game from a coaching staff that isn't always patient.
The teams went back and forth in the second half and, football being football being weird, there wasn't a single punt by either team as they waited for the game to decide the winner, and the Giants took a 17-16 lead with 6 minutes, 45 seconds to play.
The Eagles had figured out that LeSean McCoy could gain considerable yardage if they called his number, and they had figured out that DeSean Jackson could get open against the New York backfield. They had also seen that, rather than hang around in the pocket waiting to be dismembered, Vick could still take off and run for first downs.
All of that was good, but it didn't mean any of it would carry over on the most important drive of the evening. That's when the ability to survive better than the other guy would either be there or it wouldn't. At that moment, it didn't matter if there had been nine or 90 punts to start the game, or that the Eagles had done some good things and the Giants had done just one point better.
"We just stuck with it," McCoy said. "We knew that eventually we'd get on track."
And what happened on that final drive? The Eagles went 75 yards to the game-winning field goal. McCoy ran, Jackson caught, Vick scrambled. If it looked as if it was meant to be, that's great, but untrue. It happened because they made it happen.
The Giants had their chance, with the opportunity appearing because of interference calls against the Eagles, and disappearing because of one against the Giants. It came down to a 54-yard field-goal attempt - two of them, actually - with the one that counted going straight and coming up just short.
It was a great win and a hard loss, but the Giants just shrugged and left the field. They don't need to be told that good things can come despite bad results.
The Eagles, having done nothing special for several seasons, and for several games, didn't mind being reminded that the beginning doesn't necessarily dictate the end.
Contact Bob Ford at email@example.com.
Read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns. Follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.