EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The rain stopped just before game time in Giants Stadium last night. After that, jugglers and clowns fell from the sky.
It was one of those games that always seem to find the Eagles and the Giants when they play in the swampland. Since this was very likely the last game in this stadium between the teams, the football gods brought out all the gadgets.
There were fumbles, interceptions, missed tackles, brilliant long touchdowns and some of the worst officiating you'll ever see. Nothing much hung in the balance, of course, unless first place in the division with three games to play means anything.
In the end, after all the craziness had been sorted out, the Eagles won the carnival, 45-38, for their fourth straight win. If their season keeps going in the same direction, this could be a game they look back on as proof they could survive anything. At times, it seemed nothing they did would be enough. By the finish, that was only true for the Giants.
Both teams came into the game knowing Dallas had lost to San Diego, effectively forfeiting the Cowboys' tenuous hold on first place. If the Giants won, there would be a three-way tie in the division, with New York holding all the tiebreakers. If the Eagles won, they would take sole possession of the division and very nearly eliminate the Giants from contention.
That's a pretty hefty load to place on one game. But if you expected a conservative war of attrition played out on the soggy turf, that was very wrong. Everyone showed up ready to play with the possible exception of the defenses.
By coming back for the win after losing the lead late in the third quarter, the Eagles have taken control of the division and have gone a long way toward burying the Giants somewhere near Jimmy Hoffa.
Two games behind with three to play, and having been swept by the Eagles, the Giants certainly aren't going to win the division. They also trail the Cowboys and the Packers in the wild-card race and have allowed their fate to be put into the hands of others.
If there was a moment of ultimate frustration for the Giants, it came after they had crawled back to take a 31-30 lead with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter. They had to survive a clunky fumble by Eli Manning on the previous series - Peyton would know how to slide - but came back with a 61-yard pass and run to Domenik Hixon that featured the requisite amount of poor tackling from the Eagles.
New York's elation lasted exactly 15 seconds, the time it took for the Eagles to return the ensuing kickoff and run one play - a deep slant to Jackson that put the Eagles back ahead to stay. It was another amazing moment for Jackson, as he finished the play with a step dance in the end zone and then vacated the area just before a flying soda cup landed right where he had been. Classy to the end, Giants Stadium.
As the game rolled into the fourth quarter, with the Eagles having tipped the seesaw back in their favor, there had already been touchdowns by the two teams that went for 60 yards, 68 yards, 72 yards, 61 yards, and 60 yards. If someone turned in a video-game design that played like this, it would have been sent back to the programmer as unrealistic. Jackson was his own personal video game all night, changing directions wildly and accelerating as if he had hacked into the codes and found all the cheats.
A 14-0 lead wasn't going to stand up on this night, and neither was a 30-17 advantage at the half. It wasn't until the Eagles lost the lead, got it back on the Jackson touchdown that the game resembled something recognizable.
At the very time the Eagles needed a long drive and an insurance touchdown, that's exactly what they got. Nothing else might have made sense all night, but Donovan McNabb taking them 91 yards, chewing up a good portion of the final period in the process. . . that made sense. It is what division champions do when the most important moments arrive. It is what the Eagles did last night against a Giants' team that was fighting for its playoff life.
The Eagles aren't division champs yet. There are a few hurdles left before they can put away the sixth NFC East title of the Andy Reid era, but last night's game, with jugglers, clowns and poor officiating raining everywhere, was the highest of those hurdles.
They probably left Giants Stadium behind last night. As it look right now, they put the Giants in their rearview mirror as well.