EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants held Michael Vick to his lowest passer rating of the season, corralled his breakout scrambles, sacked him three times and provided the recipe to limit his destructive powers.
Still, when they walked off Lincoln Financial Field 3 1/2 weeks ago, they did so with a fifth straight loss to the Eagles and with little sense of accomplishment.
"We were upset going into the locker room, thinking, 'We can't wait to see these guys again,' " safety Deon Grant said.
Because their plan worked, right?
"It didn't work," Grant insisted. "Everybody thinks, because we contained Vick . . . Vick is not the only guy who runs that offense. They passed for too many yards. They rushed for too many yards. And when it really counted, when we needed to stop them, we couldn't get off the field."
That, of course, oversimplifies the events of Nov. 21.
Yes, with the score tied and a little more than 4 minutes left in the game, the Eagles turned a misfiring fourth-down play into a 50-yard go-ahead touchdown run. But the Giants lost mainly because quarterback Eli Manning threw three interceptions and hilariously fumbled the ball away late in the fourth quarter, gracelessly ending a run with a shameful slide.
The Giants' plan - hit the receivers at the line, often use three safeties and two linebackers, keep incendiary receiver DeSean Jackson in front of them, keep Vick in the pocket, and, when he becomes a target, nail him - reinforced the Bears' strategy, followed the next week in a win at Chicago.
"[The Bears'] game plan was utilize their secondary with jams and the pass rush," cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "Their front four made a solid pocket. They made Vick throw check-downs. That's what we want to do."
The Giants' plan also gave the Cowboys a template with which to upset the Eagles on Sunday night. They didn't – Jackson got free early and late and killed them - but they knew how.
Can the Giants do it again?
"We have to take the same approach," linebacker Michael Boley said.
The Eagles have adjusted, of course. They have encouraged Vick to stay between his tackles. When he does roam, often it is part of a scheme, whether overloading a side or accommodating misdirection.
The Giants have noticed.
"They've adjusted by continuing to scheme and come up with different ways, particularly in the early downs, of creating problems for you with his movement," coach Tom Coughlin said.
"He's actually looked to stay in the pocket more," Boley said. "He hasn't been the runner he was before that. He hasn't run the ball unless he's had to. He's taken some hits. That can take its toll on you. I'm guessing he didn't want to take too many more hits outside of that pocket."
Vick's being targeted for illegal hits since the first Giants game has been a repeated chorus from the Eagles, especially since the Giants' stated goal before that game was to knock him out of it.
And, while Vick's rushing attempts have remained about the same, their effectiveness has dwindled. He ran for at least 74 yards three times before the first Giants game, but he hasn't even hit the 50-yard mark since.
He hasn't needed to, really.
Not with Jackson resurfacing.
The Giants and Bears beat up Jackson and limited him to seven catches for only 76 yards.
He since has seven catches, all for more than 20 yards. That includes long strikes on the Eagles' first offensive play in each of the last two games.
"I was shocked when I saw the Dallas play," Thomas said of a 60-yarder that put the 'Pokes on their heels. "That's what they've been trying to do all year: Every first play, they try to take a shot up top. That's the first thing we have to do: Take away that big play."
The second thing: tackle Jackson.
That means keep Jackson in front of them. They want no parts of a Nestea Plunge celebration like the one Jackson displayed after his go-ahead, 91-yard TD catch-and-run in the fourth quarter at Dallas.
"We're not going to let him showboat against us," Thomas promised.
"We're going to do everything we can to shut him down," Thomas continued. "We did a good job last game preventing him from getting the big plays, [making] him frustrated. If you take those away, obviously, he's going to get frustrated, and he can't do all those types of dances that he does."
The Giants will be the ones dancing if they finally beat the Birds, which they haven't done since Nov. 9, 2008. That includes a playoff loss after the 2008 season. All of that losing rankles the Giants.
"We haven't beaten them in the last 3 years. They've got five [wins] against us. We're definitely counting that," Thomas said. "We know how many times they've beaten us. We've got to change that. A couple of games, we gave away. A couple of games, they beat our butts. The last game, we probably should've won, but we didn't."
They appeared to do everything they could. Of course, they weren't quite as desperate a month ago. They spent the last three games trying to make this game as significant as possible.
"We thought, if we took care of our business, when we came up to the Eagles, we might be able to control or own destiny," Thomas said. "Now, we're in that position. We could get the No. 1, No. 2 seed. This is our season on the line."
Giants wide receiver Steve Smith, who missed the teams' first game with a pectoral strain, was lost for the season Monday night in the win over the Vikings. He tore cartilage in his left knee and needs surgery . . . Tom Coughlin, ever crotchety, bristled when repeatedly asked about the effects of his team's 3-day saga and the resultant move of a game scheduled Sunday in Minnesota to Detroit on Monday night . . . Wide receiver Mario Manningham strained a hip flexor while following a long running play Monday night. He did not practice yesterday, but said he would be able to play Sunday . . . Guard Chris Snee did not practice because of a hip issue . . . Offensive lineman Shawn Andrews, who is battling the same back issues that cost him his spot as an Eagle, has not played since the first Eagles game, in which he started and played well. He was a limited practice participant and was unavailable for comment yesterday. *