EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Tom Coughlin scanned the packed auditorium at the Timex Performance Center on Wednesday and quipped, "Why are all these people here, Christmas?"
Then, he proceeded to answer his own question: "In the division. For the lead in the division. Mid-December. It's exciting, very exciting. The Eagles are an outstanding football team."
Coughlin should know. His Giants have lost to the Eagles five straight times, the longest streak since the Giants beat the Eagles nine straight times from 1997 to early 2001.
This streak hurts a little more because the Giants feel as if it should have ended at four. In the first meeting with the Eagles, on Nov. 21, the Giants accomplished their lofty No. 1 goal - contain Michael Vick - and they still lost. Vick didn't kill the Giants. He had, for him, a fairly pedestrian day, throwing for 258 yards, with no touchdowns, and rushing 11 times for 34 yards and a score.
It was the other Eagles playmakers - mainly LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin - who caused the Giants such problems. So therein lies their challenge on Sunday, when the Giants host the Eagles in a game that will, in all likelihood, determine who wins the NFC East. The Giants feel as if they have to keep Vick from having a big day, but know that the Eagles are so stocked on offense that any number of players can turn what should be a small gain into a game-changing play.
They saw it in the first game, when McCoy took a pitch from Vick on fourth and 1 from midfield and ran 50 yards for the game-winning touchdown. They saw it again on Sunday, when DeSean Jackson caught a short pass and sprinted away from the Dallas defenders for a 91-yard game-breaking touchdown. Just like that, a loss turned into a win.
"They have made quite a habit of winning in these close games in the fourth quarter, if you look and study and see where they're at," Coughlin said. "There are a lot of clear objectives here."
From the Giants' perspective, it starts on defense with containing Vick.
In the first game, unlike the Washington Redskins the week before, New York opted not to spy Vick. The Giants pressured him from the left side - everyone in the National Football League knows Vick is at his most dangerous when running to his left - and sometimes rushed as many as eight, particularly on third down and in the red zone.
New York also mixed playing two deep safeties and sending both safeties on the blitz.
As a result, the Eagles were 3 of 14 on third down, their worst third-down efficiency this season, and just one of five in the red zone. The Giants limited the big-strike offense to just four passes of 20 or more yards, and they sacked Vick three times and forced him to fumble twice (recovering once).
"I think he's playing MVP ball right now," said Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas. "Even when you have him, he's getting out of sacks and making plays for them. There's no stopping Michael Vick. It's more containing him, and that's all we're planning to do."
The week after the Giants first saw the Eagles, the Chicago Bears contained Vick by rushing four and playing a basic Cover 2. They took away the big play and forced the Eagles to grind out long drives.
That will be part of the Giants' plans on Sunday.
A couple of players said it looked to them as if Vick has not been getting outside the pocket as much in recent weeks - he has averaged nine carries in the last three games, which is higher than his season average - and linebacker Michael Boley suggested it was because Vick "didn't want to take so many more hits outside of the pocket."
Asked what one thing they have to take away from Vick and the Eagles' offense, Thomas said, "The deep shots."
"Give him no big plays," Thomas said. "Make him beat us down the field. Make him drive the ball down the field. Make him run the ball. Make him take the 8-yard curl routes or whatever we're going to give to him, but no deep shots, no big plays over 20 yards, and allow our offense to run the ball and create turnovers on defense."
The Giants' defense was ranked No. 1 overall when it saw the Eagles the first time. It has since slipped to second, allowing 237.1 yards per game, and is first in third-down defense and ninth in points allowed (average of 19.2 per game). The Giants also haven't lost since that Eagles game, beating Jacksonville, Washington, and Minnesota on Monday night.
This one means a lot to the Giants, but they know the only way they will have a chance is to knock Vick off his game.
"We're fighting for No. 1," safety Deon Grant said. "It's our championship game before the championship game. . . . We have a lot to prove. We have a lot to go out there and leave on the field. We'll make sure we do that this week."
If they do, Christmas will have come early.
Contact columnist Ashley Fox
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