IT WAS RIGHT THERE at the tippy-top of Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's things-to-do list last night.
Stop the run.
Stop the run and everything else would fall into place. Stop the run and his blitz-happy unit could unleash its pass-rushing wrath on Giants quarterback Eli Manning and rattle him and collect sacks and force turnovers and climb right back into the thick of the NFC East race.
The only problem was they couldn't stop the run. For the second time in 5 weeks, a division opponent took the football and ran it right down the Eagles' throats.
Last month, it was Clinton Portis and the Redskins who ran all over the Eagles. They rushed for 203 yards on 44 carries and controlled the clock for nearly 35 minutes in a 23-17 win.
Last night, Brandon Jacobs and the Giants topped that number, rushing for 219 yards on 45 carries against the Eagles in a 36-31 win that all but stamped out the Birds' division title hopes. At 5-4, they now are three full games behind the 8-1 Giants.
Johnson's undersized linemen and young linebackers were no match for the Giants' athletic offensive line and its three-headed rushing attack of Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The 6-5, 264-pound Jacobs rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, including what turned out to be the game-winner with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter. Ward and Bradhsaw combined for another 91 yards on 22 carries.
"They did a nice job," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of the Giants' offense. "There are some physical things that we can do better. We made a couple of adjustments, but we still have some issues there."
The Giants' dominance on the ground allowed them to control the ball most of the game. They finished with an 18 1/2-minute time-of-possession advantage over the Eagles and ran 20 more offensive plays (77-57).
Thirteen of the Giants' 45 runs went for 7 yards or more, including eight by Jacobs. On the Giants' second possession, he followed pulling right guard Chris Snee around the left side for a 20-yard gain that set up a game-tying touchdown.
The Eagles' inability to stop the run made it next to impossible to put the Giants in obvious passing situations and go after Manning, who was sacked just once and threw a pair of touchdown passes.
The 422 rushing yards the Eagles have given up to the Giants and Redskins is just 87 fewer yards than they gave up in their other seven games. They allowed 21 rushing first downs to the 'Skins and Giants, 29 in the other seven games.
"We couldn't get off the field defensively," linebacker Chris Gocong said.
The Giants converted seven of 15 third-down opportunities.
"They ran the ball and they ran it well and effectively," linebacker Omar Gaither said. "They did some things that put us in bad situations as far as the edge was concerned. They were able to rack up too many yards. I look at that, and that's terrible.''
* How the Eagles managed to get flagged for delay of game on second-and-goal from the 8 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the game. *
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