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Eagles’ defense struggles but ultimately survives

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - With his team trailing 24-3, with his defense seemingly incapable of stopping Eli Manning and the Giants' passing game, Andy Reid had a simple message for his players at halftime yesterday.

From left to right, Mike Patterson, Moise Fokou, and Jamar Chaney combine to stop Giants Ahmad Bradshaw. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
From left to right, Mike Patterson, Moise Fokou, and Jamar Chaney combine to stop Giants Ahmad Bradshaw. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - With his team trailing 24-3, with his defense seemingly incapable of stopping Eli Manning and the Giants' passing game, Andy Reid had a simple message for his players at halftime Sunday.

"He said, 'Let's go do something great,' " safety Quintin Mikell said after the Eagles completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in franchise history.

"He was cool and calm. We all knew what we needed to do. Basically, we were killing ourselves, especially on defense."

That they were. Four weeks after intercepting Manning three times and holding him to a puny 4.5 yards per attempt in a 27-17 win at the Linc, they seemed incapable of stopping Peyton's kid brother.

The key to this game was supposed to be the Eagles' ability to shut down the Giants' white-hit ground game, which they did effectively, holding Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw to 3.2 yards per carry.

But Manning and the Giants' passing game picked up the slack in the first half. Eli completed 16 of 25 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He was 6-for-10 for 109 yards on third down as the Giants converted six third downs of 6 yards or more.

Asante Samuel returned after missing three games with a knee injury, but it mattered little. Manning went after the Eagles' other starting corner, Dimitri Patterson. Mario Manningham beat Patterson with a double move for a 35-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 7-0 lead. Then Manning and Manningham went after him again midway through the second quarter for a 33-yard touchdown catch-and-run.

"That first half, they threw the book at me," Patterson said. "They were double-moving me. They did things they had never shown on film, things they didn't do in the first game.

"But I'm a competitor. I kept fighting. My mind-set was to come out in the second half and compete at a high level."

The Eagles played mostly zone in the first half and did little blitzing and Manning just carved them up. In the second half, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott went back to the strategy that had been successful against the Giants 4 weeks earlier. He got aggressive. He blitzed more with mostly man-to-man coverage behind it.

The result: Manning completed just seven of 14 passes for 101 yards in the second half. They converted just two of seven second-half third-down opportunities.

When the defense needed stops in the fourth quarter to get the ball back for their offense, it did it. It forced a hurried incompletion on a third-and-8 late in the fourth quarter with an effective blitz by rookie safety Kurt Coleman.

Then, defensive tackle Trevor Laws sacked Manning on third-and-10 with less than a minute left in the game, which forced the Matt Dodge punt that DeSean Jackson turned into his electric game-winning 65-yard touchdown return in this remarkable, 38-31 win.

"We changed up our blitzing schemes and came with different blitzes and basically put a man on a man," Mikell said in explaining the second-half turnaround by his unit. "When our secondary is playing man-on-man and playing aggressive and challenging [people], we can hang with anybody."

Manningham, who had six catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, had just two catches for 22 yards in the second half. Hakeem Nicks, who had five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in the first half, had one catch for 11 yards in the second half.

"Everybody came in at halftime, we were looking like sad puppies," Samuel said. "Everybody was just saying, 'Show your heart. Come out and fight.' And that's what we did. The second half, you have to love it."

McDermott certainly did. Not only did his unit get the snot kicked out of it in the first half, but he also lost another key player. Rookie free safety Nate Allen ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee late in the second quarter. But Coleman, also a rookie, stepped in and ended up making one of the game's key plays down the stretch.

"This is a good win over a young team and a young defense," McDermott said. "We lost another guy today, but we keep having young guys step in and step up.

"They went out there in the second half today determined not to give them anything and make them earn it. That's what we did. We came away with some big stops when we needed them."

Patterson got worked over pretty good in the first 30 minutes, but turned in a solid effort in the second half.

"We saw everything they had in the first half," the cornerback said. "That was the best they can do. They're a conservative football team. They did the opposite of everything they had shown all year. Third-and-8, what do they do? Give you a double-move. A couple of third-and-long passes, they went vertical. They had never shown that.

"The second half, we went back to what got us here. That's man-to-man [coverage] and blitzing. And that's how we won the game."

Thumbs up

To the Eagles' special teams that came up with two huge plays down the stretch. First, there was the perfectly executed onside kick with 7 1/2 minutes left that set up the touchdown drive that got the Eagles within seven points. Then there was Jackson's amazing punt return at the end to win it.

Thumbs down

To Andy Reid for not having Mike Vick take a knee on that final possession of the first half. Forget for a moment that Jeremy Maclin's "fumble" clearly should have been reversed and ruled an incompletion. Down 14 points with 22 seconds left in the half and the ball on your 18 and your offense giving you absolutely no reason to believe it could move the ball close enough for a David Akers field goal, you cut your losses and start preparing your halftime speech. You don't do anything that might dig you an even deeper hole.

Just wondering

* Why Reid didn't challenge Jackson's fourth-quarter fumble. Even Mike Pereira, the league's former supervisor of officials, admitted on the Fox telecast that if he had challenged, the fumble likely would have been changed to an incompletion. I mean, the guy's never been shy about throwing the challenge flag. He picked a bad time not to go with his instincts.

* How in the hell the Giants could have possibly been surprised by Akers' onside kick after Brent Celek's TD catch-and-run that made it 31-17. With the Eagles down two touchdowns with 7 1/2 minutes left, you've got to put your hands team on the field so that you're prepared for it. When Riley Cooper caught Akers' perfect onside kick, there wasn't anybody within 3 yards of him.

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