At just 3-6 and well short of their earlier Super Bowl aspirations, the talented but severely underachieving Philadelphia Eagles appear to already be done for the 2011 season.
In theory, that should mean a relatively easy home win on Sunday night for the Eagles’ next opponent, the first-place New York Giants (6-3), who are comfortably perched ahead of the NFC East preseason-favorite Eagles and one game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys (5-4).
That would especially seem to be the case if starting quarterback Michael Vick (who has two broken ribs) and team-leading wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (listed as day-to-day with an injured shoulder) can’t go on Sunday night, further adding to the Eagles’ injury woes, which already include a scratch for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who will be out on Sunday with torn ankle ligaments).
But, a closer look might indicate a more dangerous game than widely assumed for New York.
As Giants fans know all too well, despite their team often rising to meet some of the toughest challenges under head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants have also played uninspired and disappointing football several times in the Coughlin era when everything seemed to point beforehand, to a New York victory.
So, although the Giants have every reason to be riled up for a game against their despised rivals, fighting complacency could be New York’s biggest obstacle against the wounded Eagles as Philadelphia treks up the New Jersey Turnpike to try to steal another win on New York’s home field.
Most – perhaps rightfully so – had written the Eagles’ season off last Sunday, the moment Philadelphia lost at home for the second straight week while being upset by lowly Arizona (2-6).
Injured or not though, the Eagles still have plenty for which to play. Another loss to the Giants (who won in Philadelphia in Week 3), and their NFC wild-card hopes would figure to be gone. Philadelphia would also fall a predictably insurmountable four games behind New York with the Giants owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with seven weeks left in the regular season.
However, an Eagles win on Sunday would suddenly put presently left-for-dead Philadelphia just two games behind New York while giving the Eagles a 3-1 division record and dropping the Giants to 1-2 in the NFC East.
Still, it would seem that without Vick, the reeling Eagles would stand no chance.
Or, maybe they’d have the Giants right where they’d want them given New York’s recent history of making bad quarterbacks look like Hall of Famers.
Sure, the Giants beat Miami and Matt Moore at home this year, but two seasons ago, Moore guided the Carolina Panthers to a shockingly easy 41-9 win in New York’s final game at Giants Stadium, with nothing at stake for the Panthers and a playoff berth on the line for the Giants.
Last year, first-place New York let third-string quarterback John Kitna throw three touchdown passes and lead the Cowboys (then, 1-7) to a 33-20 win at MetLife Stadium.
And, despite crushing Charlie Whitehurst and the Seattle Seahawks, 41-7, a week earlier, the Giants allowed Tavaris Jackson and Whitehurst to play way over their heads and avenge Seattle’s home loss to New York last year with a Week 5 win (36-25) at the Meadowlands this season.
That alone should be enough reason for the Giants to take heed and bring their best game even if backups Vince Young or Mike Kafka will be taking snaps in place of Vick on Sunday night.
New York’s motivation also shouldn’t end there.
First and foremost, the Giants simply need to win after seeing a three-game winning streak end in San Francisco last week as Dallas inched closer to New York with its second straight win last Sunday, with two games to play against the Giants in the final four weeks of the regular season.
Second, the Giants and Eagles are still division rivals who simply can’t stand each other (enough said).
Third, along the same lines as the previous reason, New York would love to once again stick it to former wide receiver Steve Smith who left to join the Giants’ biggest enemy when New York wouldn’t re-sign Smith in the offseason.
Fourth, New York needs to keep the thoughts of yet another second-half swoon under Coughlin at bay. A second consecutive loss to begin the second half of the season could start the wheels turning toward an eighth straight year in which the Giants would finish with a worse record in the second half than in the first half (the Giants finished an average of 2.6 games worse in the second half compared to the first over Coughlin’s first seven years in New York).
If all of that still doesn’t light the collective fire under the Giants that it should, there are always the memories of what happened in Week 15 last season.
Whatever you prefer to term it – if the “Miracle at the Meadowlands II” (recalling ex-Giant quarterback Joe Pisarcick’s last-minute fumble to gift a 1978 win to the Eagles) or the “Meadowlands Meltdown” (the Giants’ mind-numbing collapse of historic proportions last year) – doesn’t prompt Big Blue to leave the Eagles black-and-blue and end Philadelphia’s season, nothing will.
Blowing a 31-10 lead with just a half-quarter to go at home (the worst fourth-quarter collapse in NFL history), while seeing Vick and others like DeSean Jackson run wild to help Philadelphia stun New York, 38-31, on Jackson’s punt return on the game’s final play, wasn’t just tough to take because it was a lead that never should have been lost. Or, because it was the hated Eagles who did it.
It also cost the Giants an NFC East title and a two seed in the NFC playoffs. Instead, while the Giants sat home, the Eagles, who should have missed the postseason last year, were NFC champions and got the three seed.
In the NFL, win or lose, teams need to have short memories, and move on to the next week and the next opponent.
This isn’t one of those times.
Vick or not, Maclin or not, the Giants ought to remember what happened against the Eagles last year.
They simply need to show a sense of urgency, take care of business, and complete the job they should have finished then.
Rather than letting Philadelphia breathe new life into a season that’s slipping away, the Giants should pounce on a golden opportunity to end the Eagles’ season this time, and continue on their own path toward contending in the NFC.