EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It was time to eat, and no one on the Eagles' defense seemed as hungry as Trent Cole.
There was only one selection on the menu - Eli Manning - when the New York Giants, facing a wind stiffer than Andy Reid's upper lip, had a crucial fourth-and-1 situation with 91/2 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Eagles in front, 17-7.
"You know, that's when it's time to eat," Cole said yesterday in the buoyant visitors' locker room at Giants Stadium after the Eagles kept their season meaningful with a 20-14 win over the NFC East leaders. "And we're going to pin our ears back and go."
Manning dropped back to pass, but Cole, with help from Darren Howard, quickly took away his time and space as he tried to look downfield for a receiver. The pressured Manning's pass fluttered to the turf, and the game, in effect, was decided.
The Eagles took over on downs, and David Akers kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 20-7 with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left.
Cole said the Eagles knew Manning would try to throw for the first down rather than run, even though the wind at times made the football float unpredictably like a Wiffle ball.
But intuition wasn't all Cole had going for himself on a day when he was the main disruptive force in a clutch defensive effort. In the first quarter, the defensive end stopped Derrick Ward on a second-and-1 play, and two downs later, the Giants were punting. In the second quarter, he blocked a 47-yard field-goal attempt by New York's John Carney.
"I've been looking for a block for a long time because they put me in a position to get a block, and it happened today," Cole said. "It was planned out. Rory [Segrest, the special-teams coach] thought we could get it done because of the way their protection blocks, and it worked out as planned."
After the game, Cole and the rest of the defensive linemen were tucked away in a corner, and it was the most joyous part of the locker room. They had avenged an embarrassment. The last time they played the Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions steamrollered through them for 219 yards rushing. The Giants' superb offensive line had had its way with them, and it left them angry and humiliated.
Cole said the physical pounding the Giants' line gave them last month, not to mention the Eagles' being in desperation mode for the rest of the season, was on their minds all week.
"You know, it was about being the hammer instead of the nail," he said after the Eagles limited the Giants to 88 yards on the ground. "It was about penetrating, holding off their blocks, and keeping gap control. We made some adjustments.
"There's a defensive coordinator there [former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnuolo] who knows our defense because they run a similar defense to ours," Cole said. "It was a matter of what defense was more determined to beat the men across from you.
"We were stopping the run and getting off the field, that's what kind of defense we want to be - get off after three downs and put the offense in good field position."
Victor Abiamiri, part of the defensive-line rotation used by Jim Johnson, paused when asked what he thought of Cole's performance. "He's a beast," he said.
But Cole knows that as impressive as yesterday's win was, the Eagles still have no margin for error in their hope of grabbing a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
"Our backs are against the wall," he said. "Our goal is to win every game the rest of the season and hope for the best, hope something great happens in the end. We came here and played for pride and to let everybody know we're still one of the best teams in our conference."