Sports At Phila. Front Page News Eagles 20, Giants 14
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Most Giants have not been handcuffed lately, but some played as if they were Sunday in a 20-14 loss to Philadelphia. They dropped passes, missed tackles and cast doubt on the defense of their Super Bowl championship.
Despite the defeat, the Giants (11-2) clinched a playoff berth and first place in the National Football Conference East because second-place Dallas fell to 8-5 by losing in Pittsburgh, 20-13. But the Giants have not yet secured a first-round bye.
The Giants also lost two starters, at least for much of Sunday’s game. Running back Brandon Jacobs left with an injury to his left knee early in the third quarter, and cornerback Aaron Ross also did not return after hurting his left ankle in the second quarter.
The Giants’ first home defeat ended a seven-game winning streak and followed a tumultuous week in which their star receiver, Plaxico Burress, was suspended, arrested, handcuffed, briefly jailed and charged with two firearms offenses after accidentally shooting himself in the leg in a Manhattan nightclub with an unregistered handgun.
Burress will not play for the rest of the season or the playoffs, but middle linebacker Antonio Pierce will. Pierce was with Burress during the Nov. 29 mishap and was questioned by authorities on Friday about his role in the events.
It is impossible to know if the pressure affected Pierce’s play Sunday, but he took two unfortunate penalties during the second quarter and was victimized on Philadelphia’s pivotal touchdown, a short pass behind him to Brian Westbrook.
When asked about the Burress matter, Pierce said: “That’s the media’s job to worry about. We’re not worried about that. Obviously, everybody is going to use that as an excuse. It’s not an excuse.”
In an almost reflexive way, most of his teammates agreed that the Burress affair had not distracted them. As if reading from a script, they praised the effort of the Eagles (7-5-1) and found fault with their own execution.
At first, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka dismissed questions about Burress. “That’s your story and, yeah, it’s a great story,” he told reporters. “For us, it’s a dead issue. Take it for what it’s worth.”
But then he alluded to how it played on their minds.
“We definitely feel for him,” Kiwanuka said. “We’re not going to throw him by the wayside. We’re going to be there for Plax as much as we can be there for him and as much as he needs and as much as he allows us to.”
Jacobs said the defeat might have been a good thing for the Giants because it gave them some humility.
“I’m kind of glad stuff like this happens,” he said. “This is a humbling experience.”
Jacobs said his injury was not serious. He also missed the game against Arizona two weeks ago with a left knee injury.
Ross described his ankle injury as “just a little knick-knack,” but withdrew his left foot after trying to fit it into his shoe. “Let me get some ice,” Ross said, walking away.
Early in the fourth quarter, Westbrook gave Philadelphia a 17-7 lead with a 40-yard touchdown play on a short pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb , who ducked pressure on the play. McNabb completed 19 of 30 passes for 191 yards and carried five times for 20 yards.
In the second quarter, Westbrook ran for a 30-yard touchdown after the Giants’ defense bunched the line of scrimmage for an all-out blitz. Westbrook finished with 131 yards on 33 carries and caught six passes for 72 yards.
Westbrook and McNabb helped the Eagles possess the ball for 34 minutes 54 seconds, almost 10 minutes more than the Giants. On defense, the Eagles held the Giants’ league-leading rushing attack to 88 yards.
They also held quarterback Eli Manning to 123 passing yards on 13 completions in 27 attempts. Among his incompletions were drops by Domenik Hixon, Madison Hedgecock and Steve Smith. Hixon is the primary replacement for Burress and his drop was crucial.
It came early in the second quarter with the Giants trailing, 3-0. On first-and-10, Manning threw long to Hixon, who was behind cornerback Sheldon Brown with the swirling wind at his back.
Hixon ran under the ball and it landed against his body, between his hands, with Hixon in stride and no one in front of him.
“I should have made the play,” Hixon said. “I just didn’t finish looking it in. It was right there.”
Manning said: “He just didn’t make the play. Hixon just didn’t convert. It happens. We had too many. Not just Hixon. I had plays where I had a chance to convert and I didn’t, or misread things.”
The Giants trailed by only 10-7 at halftime because defensive back Kevin Dockery scored a touchdown by running 71 yards for a touchdown after Justin Tuck blocked a field-goal attempt.
Although the attendance was announced as 79,003, many seats were empty early and more were vacated as the harsh day wore on beneath mostly overcast skies.
The stadium was three-fourths empty with more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Giants getting the ball back while down by 13 points.
After Manning completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Darcy Johnson to cut the lead to 6 points, the Giants tried to recover an onside kick with 20 seconds to play.
The Eagles recovered the ball, but that did not matter because the Giants were offside on the play. It was a fitting end to a day filled with futility.
Among the missed tackles was one by safety Kenny Phillips that allowed a 10-yard gain to L. J. Smith on third and 9. Two plays later, Westbrook scored his first touchdown to make the Eagles’ lead 10-0.
The Eagles enjoyed third-down success, converting 12 of 18 times. The Giants, on the other hand, were 3 of 11 and failed to convert three times on fourth down and short.
“We had a lot of difficulty stopping them,” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “They seemed to block us. We didn’t play well. We are a better football team than that.”
As the Giants prepare for a trip to Dallas next week, Tuck said he was not too concerned with the defeat.“I’m not concerned about anything,” Tuck said. “We played well. We still could have played better.”