Sometimes the smallest tack in the road is the one that flattens the tire, and while the Eagles haven't been much of a hazard for most of the season, they were sharp enough to stall the New York Giants on Thursday night.
The Giants, barring one of those hundred-things-must-happen scenarios in the final week of the season, are still going to the postseason. The Eagles still are not. We are way beyond saying it could have been the other way around.
But the clinch that would have allowed the Giants to rest up for the playoffs by sitting their regulars next week against Washington eluded them Thursday night. A large part of the blame is New York's. Eli Manning threw three interceptions, one that was taken back for a touchdown, and the Giants got only field goals in four of their five trips to the red zone.
Still, for the first time in a good while, the Eagles did enough to win. It wasn't just a moral victory, if the one-point loss in Baltimore the week before had been one of those. It was an actual win and if the satisfaction of denying, even if briefly, a playoff berth to a division rival is all they ultimately won, then that will have to do.
The final score was 24-19, with the Eagles scoring just three points after halftime. It was a game that could have gotten away from them in excruciating fashion, but the Giants, who have been very good lately weren't nearly good enough this time. After going 0-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer, the Eagles finally got a close one.
"In every game we play, the guys have a lot of pride. We have a lot of pride in our jobs," coach Doug Pederson said. "We might be out of the playoffs or whatever, but this was a chance for us to win a division game and erase that negative feeling we've had these last couple of weeks."
Following the game played by these teams on Nov. 6 at Met Life Stadium, the Eagles and the Giants went in opposite directions before reuniting for this rematch. The Eagles lost that first game by five points, on a day in which Doug Pederson eschewed two field goal attempts on drives that ultimately failed.
Starting with that loss, the Eagles went 1-6 while the Giants went 6-1. The Eagles went from playoff aspirations to admitting this was only supposed to be a rebuilding season. The Giants, who lost three straight early in the season, went from a directionless team to one that built to 10 wins on a dominating defense.
Coming into Thursday's game, New York had given up more than 20 points only once it its previous six games. While the offense struggled to score points, it scored just enough to win, which is a marked difference from the fortunes of the Eagles in the latter part of the season.
But the measure of how little really separates these teams was on display as Thursday's game opened and it was the Eagles that looked like the contender and the Giants like the team looking forward to the end of the season.
Against a defense that had given up a total of just 13 points in the previous two games, the Eagles drove 78 yards on their first possession to take the early lead. Eli Manning then threw unadvisedly into double coverage on the following drive and Malcolm Jenkins intercepted the pass and returned it for another Eagles touchdown.
It was the first time the Eagles held a 14-point lead over an opponent since their Oct. 23 game against Minnesota, but they earned half of it and were given the other half by a mediocre offense. The only question was whether the teams would revert to their former paths or whether the Eagles would be able to delay New York's postseason celebration for another week.
What played out afterward was entertaining if not artful, and the biggest drama of the night came when quarterback Carson Wentz was taken down by defensive end Olivier Vernon after attempting a pass and had to leave the game to go through concussion protocol. Vernon was called for roughing and backup Chase Daniel took over the drive, but all the Eagles fans in the stadium kept one eye on the field and another on the tunnel waiting for Wentz's return.
They didn't have to wait long. Wentz was back in time for the Eagles next possession - which followed yet another Manning interception by Jenkins - and he seemed fine, even when Doug Pederson called for a double reverse on which Wentz became the lead blocker and took a knee to the head. You can argue the wisdom of the call - or maybe you can't - but there was no arguing Wentz's toughness.
Call the game meaningless, and in some ways it was, but not to the players or the coaches.
"We needed a win and it was very meaningful," Pederson said.
It had been too long between wins to be anything else. In next week's finale, the Eagles will play a Cowboys team that will be resting its starters. This game against the Giants was the last time to stop an opponent that was trying its best.
The next time won't arrive until September and a lot will be different by then. On Thursday night for the Eagles, the outcome was different. The season remains unchanged, but they'll take this one, anyway.