EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eagles 17, Giants 10. Another fourth quarter lead. Two minutes, 45 seconds left. After the kickoff, 91 yards to protect.
This time, finally, the lead held.
The Eagles did give up 70 of those 91 yards, including a 47-yard pass to Victor Cruz. But in the end, they made the play that mattered: Jason Babin sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning and stripped him of the ball, and Derek Landri recovered the fumble.
With their margin for error exhausted and their nearest and greatest foe on the other side of the field, the Eagles’ defense arrived last night at MetLife Stadium in poor humor and stayed that way until the end. It was about time.
They began the night with an extra-curricular roughing up of Manning after an interception, with defensive tackle Trevor Laws and linebacker Brian Rolle doing the honors and setting an ornery tone. Later, after another big play, it was Rolle spraying the surroundings with imaginary machine-gun fire in a celebration that the league office will undoubtedly find to be cute.
Play after play in the first quarter ended with the two teams scuffling after the whistle; on one, safety Kurt Coleman emerged from the pile without his helmet. For the first time in a long time, the Eagles arrived with an edge to their game -- one that the defensive line maintained throughout the long night, dominating physically both against the run and in their mission to bang around Manning whenever possible.
But would it matter?
The answer came late.
The game came down to what every Eagles came has seemed to come down to in 2011 -- the fourth quarter, and the question of whether or not the Eagles would be able to preserve their lead.
This time, it was a 10-3 lead. And, just like five other times this season, that lead did evaporate with 11:36 left in the quarter when Cruz beat Nnamdi Asomugha in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown pass from Manning. Asomugha, for some reason, stopped for a second, allowing Cruz to beat him cleanly. It was a different play, but it was the same two players, Cruz and Asomugha, in the first Eagles-Giants game this season -- and the same result.
So it was 10-10. The fourth quarter lead was gone again. This time, with Vince Young playing quarterback all night in place of Michael Vick and his broken ribs, playing and throwing three interceptions, the offense managed to convert on five different third downs on an 18-play drive that ate almost 9 minutes off of the clock and resulted in an 8-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper in the back of the end zone.
Which left 91 yards for the Giants.
And 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
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. Their offense has been either very hot or very cold -- and last night, with Young at quarterback, very interception -- but that hasn’t been the biggest issue. It has been a defense that was terrible early in the season, much better lately, but still unable to make a play in the fourth quarter when it mattered.
This defense has been maddening. This defense also 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.