EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - As much as Andy Reid loves to throw the football, he suspected earlier in the week that he was going to have to play it a little differently against the Giants.
The weather reports were calling for wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Not optimum conditions for a quarterback like Donovan McNabb, who has been known to have trouble with his accuracy even on idyllic afternoons.
"That was the sense during the week," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "But those weather reports change so quickly. But an hour or 2 before the game, it was cold and windy, and Andy had a report that it was only going to get worse. So that's when we started formulating a little bit different game plan going in."
Reid and Mornhinweg gave all of those fans who have been calling for the Eagles to run the ball more an early Christmas present in yesterday's 20-14 win over the Giants: a season-high 41 rushing attempts for 144 yards.
Now we know why Brian Westbrook didn't practice all week. It wasn't out of concern for his ailing knee or ankle. It was to rest him for a heavy workload against the Giants.
Westbrook rushed for 131 yards on a career-high 33 carries. Throw in his six catches for 72 yards and he had a career-high 39 touches.
"Our rushing average [3.5] wasn't huge," Mornhinweg said. "But because of our defense, we were able to stay a little more patient."
Reid usually has to be convinced to stick with the run game. But not yesterday. Five of the Eagles' first eight rushing attempts went for negative yards. On a sunny, September day, that would have been more than enough reason to prompt him to put the run away in his lock box and instruct McNabb to fire away.
But on this memorable afternoon, they kept tucking the ball in Westbrook's tummy and sending him into the line. Twenty-one of his 33 rushing attempts went for 3 yards or fewer. But he broke five runs for 9-plus yards, including a 30-yard touchdown burst against a Giants blitz late in the second quarter that gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead.
"Sometimes it's hard for them to find Brian back there," right tackle Jon Runyan said. "That touchdown run of his, that was against a full blitz. You break the line of scrimmage, you're in."
The Eagles tried to finesse the Giants with a couple of early end-arounds to wide receiver DeSean Jackson. On the first one, Jackson was tackled for a 2-yard loss. The second one went for minus–7 yards. After that, most of Westbrook's runs were between the tackles.
"We came out early and wanted to see how they'd play the reverses," Runyan said. "They played them well. So, we ultimately just ran it right up the middle."
An offensive line that has been oft-criticized for its run-blocking ability this season, an offensive line that was on its third right guard, took the fight to the Giants' defense, which came into the game ranked fifth in the league against the run.
"We did a good job executing and getting a body on a body," left tackle Tra Thomas said. "We'd like to keep winning games like that. We like being able to run the ball. We want to keep doing it."
On his first run of the game, Westbrook was nailed for a 5-yard loss. His first eight rushing attempts produced a total of 9 yards. But the Eagles stayed with it. No. 9 went for 9 yards and a first down. No. 10 went for a 30-yard score. Westbrook got through the line, slowed behind his blockers, then cut to the right and had clear sailing against a defense that put nine men up in the box on the play.
"We were definitely in a rhythm," Thomas said. "Three yards here, 4 yards there. Sometimes they would stop us, but we kept doing it. We wanted to keep pushing it. Keep getting a body on a body and letting the running backs do their thing."
In the Eagles' last two games, they've run the ball 81 times. Were 2-for-2 on third-and-1 last week against the Cardinals and converted both of their third-and-1s yesterday, one on a quarterback sneak by McNabb, the other on a 2-yard run by Kyle Eckel.
Runyan clearly felt this was a rushing performance that was chest-bump-worthy.
"It's a good feeling to be in control of the game like that and not be trying to force something," he said. "You're just leaning on guys and letting Brian make the cut.
"Brian's real good at getting up in there and making something happen. A lot of times, the 'backers can't see him. He's a small guy back there behind that big line."
BY THE NUMBERS
-- Brian Westbrook was the first running back to rush for 100-plus yards against the Giants in 14 games. The last back to do it was the Redskins' Clinton Portis, who rushed for 126 against them last December.
-- Westbrook's two touchdowns gives him a career-high 14.
-- In his last five games against the Giants, Westbrook has 771 rushing and receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
-- For the eighth time in 13 games, the Eagles failed to score on their first possession.
-- With the 20-14 win, the Eagles are 2-10-1 in their last 13 games decided by six points or fewer. Since '05, they are 9-17-1 in games decided by six points or fewer.
-- In the Eagles' seven wins, they have converted 51 of 101 third-down opportunities (50.5 percent). In their five losses and tie, they converted 21 of 79 (26.6). They had converted just 10 of 40 (25.0) third-down opportunities in their three previous games against the Giants before converting 12 of 18 yesterday.
-- The Eagles had 24 first downs against the Giants. It was just the third time since Week 3 that they've had 22 or more first downs in a gamen.
-- Eight of Donovan McNabb's 33 rushing attempts this season have come in the two games against the Giants.
-- The Eagles' offensive line has allowed just 19 sacks this season. The fewest they've allowed since the league went to a 16-game schedule in '78 was 22 in 1981.
-- Opponents have just a 22.2 percent third-down success rate against the Eagles in their seven wins and tie (24-for-108).
-- With his 2-for-4 performance, David Akers is 11-for-22 for his career at Giants Stadium. He's 4-for-12 from 35-plus yards there.
DID YOU NOTICE?
-- Lito Sheppard's conspicuous absence. Joselio Hanson has replaced him as the Eagles' third corner in nickel packages.
-- Rookie Quintin Demps saw some action early on in some three-safety nickel packages, replacing cornerback Asante Samuel. But Jim Johnson pulled him in the second quarter after he bit on a double move by Domenik Hixon. Hixon was wide open downfield, but dropped the ball.
-- The Eagles used their third and final first-half timeout with 14:46 left in the second quarter.
-- For the first time this season, DeSean Jackson didn't have a reception.
To the Eagles' short-yardage offense. They finally appear to be getting the hang of this third-and-1 thing. They converted both of their third-and-1 opportunities against the Giants. Donovan McNabb picked up a first down on a quarterback sneak and Kyle Eckel gained 2 yards on a third-and-1 late in the third quarter that paved the way for Brian Westbrook's 40-yard touchdown catch-and-run. In their last three games, the Eagles are 5-for-6 on third-and-1. Before that, they were 7-for-18.
To Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg for calling an end-around late in the first quarter on a third-and-6 at the Giants' 26-yard line. They already were within field-goal range. Why dial up a high-risk play like an end-around? The Giants sniffed it out and tackled DeSean Jackson for a 7-yard loss. Luckily for the Eagles, David Akers managed to convert a 51-yard field-goal attempt.
EAGLES REPORT CARD
Rushing offense: Amazingly, the pass-happy Eagles did the smart thing on a windy day and ran the ball. Ran it a season-high 41 times. Gave it to Brian Westbrook a career-high 33 times. The Eagles only averaged 3.5 yards, but controlled the ball, particularly in the second half, when they had it for 20 1/2 minutes
Passing offense: Donovan McNabb completed 19 of 30 passes, including 12 to RB Brian Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith. Didn't throw an interception for the second straight game. Westbrook's 72 receiving yards were a season high. So were Smith's six receptions.
Run defense: A month ago, Brandon Jacobs and the Giants steamrolled the Eagles for 219 rushing yards. In the rematch, the Eagles held them to 88 yards on 24 carries. Giants had just two runs of 10 yards or more.
Pass defense: With no Plaxico Burress to worry about and a little assist from the wind, the Eagles held Eli Manning to seven completions in 21 attempts in the first three quarters. Safeties and linebackers did an excellent job on tight end Kevin Boss, holding him to one catch for 5 yards.
Special teams: David Akers, who entered the game just 9-for-18 in his career at the Meadowlands, had a near-disastrous day. He had two field-goal attempts blocked, including one that was returned for a touchdown at the end of the first half.
Overall: So much for the belief that the Giants were unbeatable. The Eagles' offensive and defensive lines both won the trench battles. In man-bites-dog news, Andy Reid ran the ball a season-high 41 times.