Challenges. Who would have believed it could have come down to replay challenges? On a night of high drama against the New York Giants, a night when the Eagles’ defense got pushed around the field as if it were on wheels, a night when the Eagles deserved to have been blown out, who ever could have predicted that the outcome was decided largely by one replay challenge that went in favor of the Giants and one replay challenge that went against the Eagles?
In the annals of this rivalry, this will be remembered as The Night of the Red Flag. In the years and decades to come, people will look back and see this as the night when the digital replay machine did in the Eagles in the end. The final score was Giants 36, Eagles 31. A bunch of stuff happened. But the challenges stand out.
That isn’t to say the calls were wrong. They were close, and referee Terry McAulay likely got them right. But that does not make it any more palatable. On the night the Eagles lost their last reasonable chance at winning the NFC East, some of the final, essential bits of the drama took place with McAulay’s head beneath the protective hood of the way-back machine.
The first key challenge came in the middle of the third quarter, with the Eagles leading by 24-20. On a third-and-10 play from the Eagles’ 20-yard line, Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed a pass over the middle to tight end Kevin Boss for a 17-yard gain. But a flag flew quickly. The call was that Manning was over the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball.
The next challenges also went the Giants’ way. Yes, there were two of them. Eagles coach Andy Reid never challenges – going into this season, he challenged fewer times than anyone in the NFL – but he ended up challenging on two consecutive plays in the fourth quarter. Both involved plays in which the Eagles claimed that Giants running back Brandon Jacobs fumbled. Both were unsuccessful, leading to a key Giants touchdown.
The residue of defeat, of this defeat, will wink at the Eagles from the table of standings in the newspaper for weeks and weeks. Pushed backward, pushed around, they lost to the Giants last night at Lincoln Financial Field and probably lost their final realistic chance to win the NFC East. Run over, run down, the Eagles have a 5-4 record and stare squarely at the probability that they might need to win six of their final seven games to make the playoffs.
Hanging on, just hanging on, they all must be wondering the same thing. What if either one of the replay challenges had gone their way?