EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The bus from the airport hotel trekked through the cascading rains, trudged slowly up through the three exits it took to reach Giants Stadium last night.

It was the slowest the Eagles' offense moved all night.

The defense? Well they never seemed to move any faster than that. Stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey they were.

It's the common thread stringing together the division contenders of the NFC East, this torturous propensity to surrender big yardage and big plays at big points of the game.

And it doesn't translate into January success.

"We've got a lot of mistakes we have to clean up," defensive tackle Mike Patterson was saying after the Eagles beat the Giants last night, 45-38. "Right now, though, we're happy with the victory."

"It was an ugly win," linebacker Chris Gocong said. "But I'll take it."

Dallas gave up big plays here two Sundays ago, slightly more than New York did. The Cowboys did it again yesterday afternoon, dropping a winnable game to the Chargers on their home field, and escalating the manic discussion down there of dormant Decembers . . . if that's possible.

The Giants did it last night and did it slightly less than the Cowboys in New York's win a week before. They also escaped a 14-point comeback by Atlanta in the last 6 minutes, 1 second of regulation here on Nov. 22, mostly by winning the overtime coin toss.

There's nothing wrong with the Giants' offense that surehanded skill players wouldn't solve. New York accumulated more than 400 yards in just the first three quarters and 512 yards overall, but surrendered points via fumbles and drops.

There's nothing wrong with their defense that a healthy Antonio Pierce and entirely new secondary unit wouldn't solve, either.

Which will undoubtedly be part of their offseason discussions.

There's nothing wrong with the Eagles' offense at all, not the way it has played since that ugly loss to Oakland on Oct. 18. The surprising performance of rookie LeSean McCoy, the emergence of Leonard Weaver as a weapon, DeSean Jackson's superhuman abilities, the array of targets, the impressive accuracy of Donovan McNabb (save one interception) . . . If the Eagles have an offensive weakness these days, it is that they score too quickly, too easily.

It's a big problem with big plays. Your defense goes right back out there. And when your defense leans on players like Will Witherspoon, Sean Jones and yes, the creaky-kneed Jeremiah Trotter, well . . .

Whoa, Nellie!

Scoring at least 30 points in one half should salt away a victory. Certainly it did the last time these teams met, although it should be noted that the Giants pulled to within 33-17 before McCoy introduced himself to the rivalry with that spectacular 66-yard touchdown run that capped their 40-17 win.

Last night, the Eagles jumped to a 14-0 lead after an impressive opening drive netted one touchdown, and Sheldon Brown's return of Brandon Jacobs' fumble resulted in another. But it was a prelude, not a statement. New York found Philadelphia's defense as pliable as its own, even if drops and a few other notable miscues sometimes made Giant forays downfield slower.

I said sometimes. The Giants owned a lead once last night, for 15 seconds. Quarterback Eli Manning hit Domenik Hixon on a short pass to the left flat, and Hixon shook off Witherspoon and Jones as if they were raindrops, scampering 61 yards for a 31-30 lead.

The drive: Two plays, 59 yards, 1:19 elapsed.

On the Eagles' first play after the kickoff, McNabb hit Jackson on a post pattern, for 60 yards and a touchdown. Safety Aaron Ross, who had not played that position since college, was in single coverage. The play looked almost choreographed, as if someone were filming a football movie for Hollywood and needed big plays, big scores, lots of back-and-forth.

It was like that watching it, too.

"It is kind of what we did to Dallas last week," Manning said. "One play and you get a big shot and all of a sudden it just changes momentum."

"Very interesting game," Eagles defensive end Darren Howard said. "I'm sure it was a good game to watch. Touchdowns from the defense. Touchdowns on special teams.


It made for a great night of football, a great win for the Eagles, gave them an unlikely solitary hold on first place in the East Division at 9-4. Unlikely because of the way this season started, the way the bodies have fallen, week after week.

But it made for a bad night for each team's rookie defensive coordinator who, in their defense, are playing a little short these days. The Eagles started Witherspoon and Joe Mays at linebacker last night, played Trotter a lot, too. The Giants had Michael Boley and Jonathan Goff in those spots, and a pieced-together secondary that fell to pieces quickly and spectacularly.

No one could recall the last time these two teams combined for so much offense in a single game.

Only that it could not have come in a Super Bowl year for either.

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