David Akers' 57-yard field goal try with 6 seconds to play glanced off the right upright and spat sideways, leaving the Eagles at 5-8 after a gallant, last-gasp effort in a 16-13 loss that improved the Giants to 9-4.
The Giants' pliable prevent defense allowed the Birds to move 45 yards in 47 seconds with no timeouts, setting up Akers' try. It, like the previous drive, encapsulated the Eagles' close-but-not-quite season.
They had the ball, fourth-and-5 at their own 43 with 2 minutes to play at the two-minute warning.
A conversion and eight wins, maybe nine, are a possibility, and along with that, the playoffs.
A failure, a turnover on downs, and the game, and maybe the season, is over, standing at 5-8 with three games to play.
With Brian Westbrook in the backfield, with three receivers, Donovan McNabb took a quick drop, delivered to Jason Avant, who sat in the middle of the field in front of Antonio Pierce.
Did Pierce hit him early? The Eagles said yes.
The officials said no.
That pretty much told the story on a cold and ugly day on which the Eagles' offense was mostly cold and ugly.
McNabb returned from a two-game absence with ankle and thumb injuries to go 20-for-30 for 179 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions. He wasn't quite that good.
Westbrook, nursing his chronic knee injury, generally looked outstanding: 20 rushes, 116 yards and a touchdown catch.
But the Birds' offense only really clicked for two series.
McNabb and Westbrook looked healthy as horses on the first drive. Westbrook got 30 yards on three runs and McNabb hit his first two passes for 20 yards before the pair connected for an 18-yard touchdown pass-and-run that made it 7-0 just over 3 minutes into the game.
That was cumulative first-half fruit of an offensive effort marked by two unremarkable trick plays and a questionable, though successful, fourth-and-1 conversion from their own 35 with a seven-point lead midway through the first quarter.
The Giants' first points came largely thanks to the Eagles' miscues. Cornerback Lito Sheppard body-slammed Sinorice Moss to add 15 penalty yards to a 17-yard catch. Trent Cole jumped offsides to give the Giants 5 more, and then a 35-yard run by Reuben Droughns was ended at the 1 by Brian Dawkins – a four-point play, it turned out.
Even after an offsides penalty the Eagles held the Giants to a 19-yard field goal about 4 minutes into the second quarter.
Lawrence Tynes chipped in another as the first half ended, this one from 23 yards, set up by R.W. McQuarters' 27-yard punt return and a 19-yard scramble pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress on third-and-7. The kick made it 7-6 at halftime.
Trent Cole spearheaded the defensive effort with a pair of sacks in the first half, which brought his season total to 11 1/2.
The first one ended the Giants' first drive of the game, at their 28. The second one squashed a dangerous incursion into Eagles' territory, turning third-and-3 from the 34 into fourth-and-7 from the 38 and forcing a punt.
The Giants gave three points back early in the third quarter when Omar Gaither jarred the ball from Brandon Jacobs almost immediately after Jacobs caught a pass in the backfield. Mike Patterson recovered and returned it 12 yards. The Giants challenged the play, lost the challenge, then stopped the Eagles, who settled for a 29-yarder form David Akers and a 10-6 lead.
Westbrook returned the favor on the Eagles' first play of their second series of the third quarter, when Justin Tuck stripped him and Sam Madison recovered. Manning (17-for-31) quickly hit on passes of 3, 19 and, finally, a 20-yard touchdown strike to Plaxico Burress.
The touchdown toss came right after the 19-yard pass to Amani Toomer. The Eagles appeared to have forced a fumble but, after a challenge, the ruling on the field stood.
Brian Dawkins missed the series as he fought cramping in the Eagles' locker room. Dawkins' participation was a game-day decision since back spasms cost him practice time during the week.
He returned in time to help the defense stiffen and stymie the Giants at the Eagles' 4, where they settled for a field goal and a 16-10 lead with 48 seconds left in the third.
The Eagles cut that to 16-13 midway through the fourth with a 31-yard field goal, their only sustained drive after their opening possession.
Notably, the Eagles leaned on Westbrook on that drive. They also converted fourth-and-1 with a McNabb sneak for the second time in the game.
The Giants were moving, though, and seemed ready to ice with win when Juqua Thomas' pursuit of Jacobs reversed the momentum. Thomas forced Jacobs' second fumble of the game at the Eagles' 5. Jacobs was finishing a punishing, 21-yard run which was preceded by a 31-yard third-down reception from Burress. Essentially, Thomas' play saved certain points.
Given the subsequent events, Thomas' play was huge . . . but inconsequential, after the DOINK.
Fragile TE L.J. Smith left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return . . . Strong safety Quintin Mikell started after missing two games with a sprained knee . . . Right guard Shawn Andrews briefly left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter but returned . . . Left tackle Tra Thomas missed the first game against the Giants, on Sept. 30 at the Meadowlands, and the Eagles gave up 12 sacks. Thomas' replacement, Winston Justice, allowed five of the six sacks accrued by Giants end Osi Umenyiora. Yesterday, the Eagles allowed three sacks.