Winning a close one

The Eagles had been 1-10-1 in their last 12 games decided by six points or fewer, but they managed to pull out a 20-14 win over the Giants because they made big plays at crucial moments.

The biggest play was made by quarterback Donovan McNabb. After tripping behind center and losing 4 yards on the second play of the fourth quarter, the Eagles quarterback was faced with a crucial third-and-11 play from New York's 40-yard line.

After the Eagles' previous two drives ended with blocked field-goal attempts, it was imperative that they score on their second possession of the second half. With defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka applying pressure, McNabb showed tremendous poise in the pocket and found Brian Westbrook streaking across the middle ahead of linebacker Antonio Pierce for a 40-yard touchdown.

The other thing McNabb has done in the last two games is run for first downs when given the opportunity. There's nothing more debilitating for a defense than doing everything right only to be beaten for a first down by an impromptu run by the quarterback.

Fourth-down stops

The Eagles' defense stopped the Giants' offense on three fourth-down plays, the first of which came on New York's opening drive.

"I don't want to say it was insulting for them to go for it on . . . that first series, but I was kind of surprised by it," linebacker Chris Gocong said. "I knew our defense, once we got that stop, it was a big moment for us, and the next two times we did it, it was just awesome. The whole feeling on the sidelines, it just brings everybody up."

Cornerback Sheldon Brown deserved all the credit for the Eagles' first fourth-down stop. Matched in single coverage with Domenik Hixon, Brown closed fast and knocked down a pass from Eli Manning that would have given the Giants the first down.

Receiver Steve Smith gave the ball back to the Eagles on the Giants' second failed fourth-down attempt late in the first half when he simply dropped a fourth-and-3 throw from Manning.

The relentless Trent Cole deserved all the credit for the final stop. Cole and Chris Clemons got good outside pressure on Manning, forcing the quarterback to step up in the pocket. Cole never stopped his pursuit and hit Manning as he threw the football, forcing an incompletion on the fourth-and-1 play in the final quarter.

L.J.'s big play

Westbrook deservedly got credit for having a huge game, but the biggest offensive play of the first half was made by tight end L.J. Smith when he converted on third and 9 from the Eagles' 48 with a 10-yard reception.

With McNabb unable to find anybody downfield, the quarterback checked down to his tight end along the left sideline. After a great stutter-step move on safety Kenny Phillips at the line of scrimmage, Smith picked up a great block from receiver Kevin Curtis on safety Michael Johnson and lunged for the first down. Curtis left the game after that play with a concussion.

Leading the way

Westbrook got plenty of help from his blocking friends on his 30-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter.

It started with a good lead block from fullback Dan Klecko on Johnson and another block on the left edge by receiver Hank Baskett against Kiwanuka. Right tackle Jon Runyan took down defensive end Justin Tuck, center Jamaal Jackson pushed aside defensive tackle Fred Robbins, Smith sealed off linebacker Danny Clark, and right guard Nick Cole laid a punishing block on middle linebacker Antonio Pierce.

Justice to blame

Eagles coach Andy Reid will never single out one of his players for blame, but he did give a clue yesterday as to what went wrong on the blocked field goal that resulted in a Giants touchdown at the end of the first half.

"That one . . . we had new people in there, so there was a little mix-up," Reid said.

The new person was Winston Justice, who allowed Justin Tuck to squeeze past him and block the kick. Justice replaced the injured Max Jean-Gilles in that spot.

It was still the best game Justice has ever played at Giants Stadium.

Extra points

Reggie Brown did not dress Sunday, but he did have one TV cameo appearance during the Eagles' victory. After a wide-open Domenik Hixon dropped a 50-yard pass from Eli Manning that hit the Giants receiver right in the numbers, Brown could be seen laughing and clapping on the Eagles' sideline. . . . The Giants converted a third-and-4 play with a 13-yard pass from Manning to Hixon early in the second quarter, but they should have been flagged for a delay-of-the-game penalty. It's clear that center Shaun O'Hara had not started to snap the ball when the play clock hit zero. The Giants got away with the same thing again later on the same drive on a third-down play that fell incomplete. Eagles safety Quintin Mikell could be seen pointing at the play clock as he came up on a blitz. . . . The illegal-block penalty on Quintin Demps during a second-quarter punt return was a bad call.

- Bob Brookover