Eagles master the art of survival

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick tosses a touchdown pass in the first half. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

Well, that was simple enough.

Eagles 19, Giants 17. That is what it said on the scoreboard. It is hard to explain how close it came to not happening.

Twice, pass interference penalties prolonged the Giants’ final drive of the fourth quarter. One, on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, was justified. The other, on Nnamdi Asomugha, was invented by the man who threw the flag. And then a third pass interference call, this time on Giants receiver Ramses Barden, was also called. New refs, same as the old refs.

After all of the laundry was picked up and all of the yards were added and subtracted, here was the situation: Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes was looking at a 54-yarder with 15 seconds remaining to win the game.

Snap, hold, kick.

Wide left.

Pandemonium at Lincoln Financial Field. But then the whistles were blowing and the striped arms were waving. The Eagles had called timeout before the kick. Tynes was going to get another try, and Eagles coach Andy Reid was going to be forever tarred by this newest adventure in clock management.

So, again.

Snap, hold, kick.


This time, the pandemonium was justified. The Eagles are now 3-1 and their defense, which had played so well for the first 3 1/2 quarters, was let off the hook.

The Eagles didn’t used to be able to play this kind of game. They weren’t good enough on defense to even think about pulling it off. They were too easy to run on, too prone to mistakes. For too long, they were built to win shootouts and nothing but shootouts -- you know, last team with the ball wins.

But on Sunday night, deep into the second quarter, the scoreboard was not lying when it said Eagles 0, Giants 0. And at halftime, it was Eagles 7, Giants 3. The yards were hard to come by, and the hitting was a notch above normal, and both offenses approached the whole business with a significant amount of caution.

The Eagles’ offense, in recent years, has not been all that interested in caution. It has been designed to be explosive instead. There are probably a dozen reason why Reid and Marty Mornhinweg don’t like running the ball but, in the last couple of years, one of them was that they always seemed to feel the need to score more points, to build a bigger cushion, because the defense could not be trusted to hold.

But this was the year that the defense was going to prove it could be trusted. This was the year and this was the game -- and then it all blew up one one drive in the fourth quarter, one drive where they couldn’t seem to do anything right, where they found themselves out of position at times and suckered by play action at others, where Giants quarterback Eli Manning carved them up and put the Giants in front, 17-16, on a 6-yard pass to Bear Pascoe.

It knocked them back. It raised all of the old questions. But Michael Vick gave the defense another life with a late scoring drive that began at the Eagles’ 17-yard line. A 25-yard Alex Henery field goal with 1:49 remaining put the Eagles back in front, 19-17.

And then came the circus -- of flags and timeouts and 54-yarders that were no good in the night.

We are fixated on the Eagles’ offense, just because. We speculate endlessly about Vick, and the run-pass ratio, and blitz pickup, and on and on. By contrast, the defense had become something of an afterthought. It was just assumed that they were going to be undersized, and that they would try to make up for that with speed, and that they were going to give up a ton of yards on the ground, and that they were going to hope to hang on for dear life in most games.

So, after this one, there will be a lot of conversation about how Reid and Mornhinweg stuck with the running game in the second half, despite LeSean McCoy having only 2 yards on six carries at the intermission. It will be a valid conversation, too -- because McCoy did explode in the second half.

But it needs to be stated prominently that perhaps the main reason the Eagles stuck with the run was because they were able to stick with the run. They stuck with it because they had a 7-3 lead at the half, and then a 10-3 lead, and then a 13-10 lead, and then a 16-10 lead.

And, despite everything, the defense did hold on in the end. Barely.