EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Last night's Eagles-Giants game had everything, it seemed, except for tackling.

Even though they would go on to claim a season sweep over their NFC East rivals and take sole possession of the division lead, the Eagles will not count last night's 45-38 win as one of their better defensive efforts.

Indeed, it was probably the unit's worst outing of the season, one in which it surrendered more than 500 yards to the Giants' offense.

"We didn't get the guys down on the ground," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "We got to wrap up. We got to keep our heads up. . . . Fundamentals."

The pass rush was nonexistent, the pass coverage was porous, and the run defense was inconsistent. But poor tackling was what most marred defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's game plan. The only saving grace was that New York's defense was equally inept.

Missed tackles contributed to two long Giants touchdowns.

In the second quarter, New York cut into a 14-3 lead when wide receiver Hakeem Nicks caught a 68-yard pass from Eli Manning. Cornerback Asante Samuel bit early when Manning cocked to throw, and Nicks caught the pass high and turned to find safety Quintin Mikell in his path. He spun out of Mikell's attempt and raced the rest of the way for the score.

As reporters walked into the locker room, Samuel yelled: "All you reporters, the headlines should read, 'A win is a win is a win.' "

The worst example of poor tackling occurred in the third quarter when Manning and Domenik Hixon hooked up for a 61-yard strike.

Manning found the receiver running a route underneath. Eagles linebacker Will Witherspoon was on the coverage, but he whiffed on the first attempt to bring Hixon down. When safety Sean Jones made a halfhearted effort to bring Hixon down, the receiver had nothing but open space between himself and the end zone, and the Giants had their first lead, 31-30.

Fortunately for the Eagles, the offense answered quickly when Donovan McNabb hit DeSean Jackson on a 60-yard TD pass, and the Eagles never relinquished the lead.

Mikell was among the Eagles defenders who had a rough night. He was whistled for two illegal contact penalties on successive plays during the drive that produced Nicks' second-quarter score. And he drew a personal foul flag early in the fourth quarter when he hit Giants tight end Kevin Boss out of bounds.

Mikell, one of the Eagles' more reliable tacklers, was asked last week if the defense was a better tackling group than it had been under former coordinator Jim Johnson.

"Earlier in the year we weren't doing a great job," Mikell said. "It's usually when we key on it and we focus on it during the week, so hopefully we're focusing on it enough this week because this is a running team. This is what [the Giants] want to do."

Still, the defense provided seven points when Sheldon Brown returned a fumble 60 yards in the first quarter for a touchdown, and it made two fourth-quarter stops after the Eagles regained the lead with Jackson's 60-yard touchdown reception.

The Eagles blitzed Manning much more last night than they had in the previous meeting between the two teams, but they generated little pressure through most of the first three quarters.

They finally got to him when it counted most.

With the Eagles clinging to a 37-31 lead and the Giants facing third and 6 at their own 33-yard line, Joselio Hanson, back after a four-game banned-substance suspension, came on a corner blitz and met defensive end Juqua Parker, among others, at Manning.

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.