This could have been it. For 26 minutes, the Giants had marched down the field as if moving to the heartbeat of the Eagles' season, each chunk of yards another beep on a monitor rapidly dropping toward flat. Code blue came with four minutes left before halftime. Nate Gerry was crouched a few yards in front of the line of scrimmage, sliding to his left, waving his arms, desperately trying to align himself before the snap. When the fateful moment arrived, the entire front seven was moving one way, and Saquon Barkley was moving another, cutting against the grain, accelerating through a crossbar-sized gap on the weak side of the formation.
Fifty-one yards later, the Giants running back rumbled into the end zone, a one-man storm surge leaving a swath of destruction in his wake, black jerseys like tar paper, shredded and strewn, piles of defenders tangled on the ground like sticks in a children's game.
This had to be it, didn't it? Down by 16, fresh off a couple of games in which the Eagles had totaled just 27, Malcolm Jenkins picked himself up off the turf and headed to the sideline with 34 minutes standing between him and a third straight loss, and the effective end of a season.
"I think that was a turning point in the game, and who knows for our season," the Eagles safety said later. "Things could have just continued to snowball out of control."
In a lot of ways, the Eagles' 25-22, come-from-behind victory over the Giants on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field was a glaring display of all of the reasons the current season seems destined to fall short of last February's glories. Their injury-ravaged defense spent the first two quarters allowing nearly 350 yards of total offense to an over-the-hill quarterback and shaky offensive play caller. Their newly acquired Pro Bowl receiver was again mostly a nonfactor. Their franchise quarterback still looks to be battling some rust in his mechanics.
>> JEFF McLANE: Carson Wentz finally proves he can be clutch
In short, the only thing that this victory showed us for sure was that the Eagles are not the biggest mess in the division. But there were some other lessons, ones that the team's fan base can only hope are the marks of a group in the midst of reinvention. After Barkley's 51-yard touchdown run gave the Giants a 19-3 lead with 4:06 remaining in the second quarter, the Eagles rededicated themselves to a lot of the basics that drove their success last season. On the offensive side of the ball, their line gave Carson Wentz enough protection to march them down the field for a score that cut their halftime deficit to eight points. In the game's final two quarters, the Eagles rediscovered their running game, most notably on a go-ahead touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter on which running backs Josh Adams and Corey Clement gained all 61 of the team's yards.
On the other side of the ball, Jenkins and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz rallied the unit, first on the sideline after their discombobulated effort at stopping Barkley's long run, then on the field, where Schwartz switched to a simplified game plan in hopes of cutting down on the miscommunications that had plagued the group throughout the first half. An Eagles defensive line that had been disconcertingly silent in losses to the Cowboys and Saints ended up dominating the game's last two quarters. After totaling 346 yards of offense in the first half, the Giants managed just 56 in the second.
It remains to be seen whether what we witnessed in the second half on Sunday is the start of something sustainable or just a momentary blip in a lost season. One thing seems clear: For the Eagles to win this division and get back to the playoffs, they will need to use the formula that led to this win over the Giants. They will need to run the ball (they finished the game with 127 yards on 29 carries). They will need to rush the passer (they sacked Eli Manning twice in the second half). Most important, they will need to avoid the sorts of breakdowns that marred the first two quarters.
This was not a perfect victory, nor a pretty one. But the Eagles have the benefit of playing in an imperfect division. The Giants are done. The Redskins are starting a journeyman backup at quarterback. With back-to-back games against Washington and Dallas looming, the Eagles are two wins away from at least a share of first place.
>> MARCUS HAYES: Pederson's FEARLESS fourth-down call saved the season for the Eagles
On Sunday, after Jake Elliott kicked a game-winning field goal with 22 seconds remaining and the Giants' found themselves with too little time, right tackle Lane Johnson jogged through the end zone toward the tunnel that leads to the Eagles' locker room. Just before he disappeared, he lifted his hands above his head and clasped them together, as if thanking the good Lord above for an answered prayer.
"It's like one of those dying fish on the bank, where you walk a couple hours later and they still got a couple of gulps left," Johnson said later. "That's where we're at."
>> SOCIAL MEDIA ROUNDUP: What they're saying about Eagles-Giants