Going into the season, if you’d made a list of the half-dozen most important players on the Eagles’ defense, everybody on that list would have been out of Sunday’s 27-24 last-second victory over the New York Giants by halftime, except Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins.
The Birds came in without corner Ron Darby (ankle) and safety Rodney McLeod (hamstring). They lost defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) in the second quarter, long before a 14-0 lead entering the fourth had turned into a 21-14 deficit.
“Guys take a lot of pride, in our locker room. We want to be accountable to each other,” said safety Chris Maragos, who started in place of McLeod, despite having played pretty much strictly on special teams since 2015. “This week they needed me, which is a little unusual, for my role on the team. … [But] I know what’s going on. I sit in those meetings.”
The Giants, desperate to avoid falling to 0-3, went from being shut out to being ahead in the space of five and a half minutes in the fourth quarter, before the Eagles caught a toehold and clawed back.
“You’re just throwing punches back and forth, essentially. It’s an every-round fight,” Maragos said. “You just got to be able to withstand everything they can throw at you. Today we did that.”
They stopped the Giants twice on fourth down, once an inch from the goal line. They played way off Eli Manning’s receivers, trying to keep a patchwork secondary from getting burned deep.
With Manning throwing off three-step drops (sometimes it seemed he took the snap and chucked the ball in the same motion), the Eagles’ pass rush never managed a sack. So much for what many observers thought would be the biggest mismatch of the day, Graham, Cox and company against a shaky Giants offensive line.
“These guys just battled and battled and battled and kept us in there. Big goal-line stand today,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “Can’t be any more proud of the way our defense played and the way these guys stepped in and filled in. Great job.”
The Giants found it easier to pile up passing yards (366) than points.
“A team is not going to go down the field, 100 yards, throwing slants every play,” said rookie corner Rasul Douglas, who got his first interception in his first NFL start.
The game came down to a final drive for each team, the score tied at 24. New York got the ball with 51 seconds remaining at its 25. A couple of penalties helped put the Giants at third and 15 from their 20. Manning then found tight end Evan Engram over the middle, but Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks slammed Engram down immediately, a yard short of the sticks.
“Me and Nigel [Bradham] had a vise tackle on the guy. He came up short, thank God, because it was a matter of inches,” Kendricks said.
The Giants had to punt with 19 seconds remaining. Eighteen seconds later, Jake Elliott was lining up for what would become the longest field goal in franchise history, 61 yards.
Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill hoisted Elliott onto their shoulders and carried him off following his walkoff field goal.
“He deserved it,” Kendricks said. “I’m just thinking it’s going to be a great picture. It was just a fun thing to do. I’d never seen a ‘61’ win a game before, and I’m pretty sure he’s never done that before.”
Late in the second quarter, Pederson put his defense in a bind. The Eagles went for it on fourth and 8 from the Giants’ 43, and Carson Wentz took a 6-yard sack. Manning got the ball at his 49 with 2:29 remaining before halftime.
Nine plays later, Manning seemed to have hit Sterling Shepard for a touchdown; that was the ruling on the field. But a replay showed Patrick Robinson wrestling Shepard out of bounds just before the ball crossed the line. On third down, Shepard couldn’t hold onto a pass, and then, on fourth down, the nose of the ball almost touching the goal line, the Giants sent running back Paul Perkins into the middle. Perkins tried to leap the pile, but he had to get off the ground first, and Vinny Curry made sure that didn’t happen.
“Just used my speed,” said Curry, who eluded Giants guard Brett Jones, subbing for Justin Pugh, who had to move to right tackle with Bobby Hart injured. “Something told me that dude was going to jump.”
If Pederson made questionable play calls, Giants coach Ben McAdoo seemed to be trying to outdo him. In the third quarter, on fourth and 2 from the Eagles’ 13, McAdoo again declined the chip-shot field goal and went for it. Tim Jernigan pressured Manning, and Robinson broke up a pass intended for Shepard.
“We had important people out of the game from the jump,” Kendricks said afterward. Kendricks usually doesn’t play on obvious passing downs, but with Hicks out, there Kendricks was, in coverage at the end and earlier, when he deflected a Manning pass to Robinson for an interception. “We had to fill in a lot of spots.”
A Zach Ertz fumble right after the first Giants touchdown put the Eagles’ defense on its heels, and jump-started the Giants, but panic didn’t set in.
“What we didn’t do last year, we didn’t finish games,” Graham said. “We were always in those tight ones, but we didn’t finish. I feel like we’re getting over that hump.”
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