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Paul Domowitch: Between the tackles: Defense takes aggressive approach in second half

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.

The Eagles' defense stopped the Giants on five of seven second-half third-down opportunities. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
The Eagles' defense stopped the Giants on five of seven second-half third-down opportunities. (David Maialetti/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 yesterday.

"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-hot 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 the 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 for 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.

Did you notice?

-- How clean Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty got into the Eagles' backfield to pressure Mike Vick on his first-quarter interception.

-- The missed tackles by both Dimitri Patterson and Quintin Mikell on Mario Manningham's second touchdown catch.

-- The frequent presence of Colt Anderson on the field, even before Nate Allen got hurt. The Eagles went to a three-safety package several times, particularly when the Giants went with two tight ends.

-- The inordinate number of high snaps by center Mike McGlynn.

-- The key blocks by Eagles wide receivers. DeSean Jackson had a nice block on Giants corner Terrell Thomas at the tail end of Brent Celek's 65-yard TD catch and run. And Jason Avant had a huge block on Zak DeOssie on Jackson's game-winning punt return.

-- All of the Vick passes that the Giants tipped, batted or deflected. By my unofficial count, there were at least seven.

By the numbers

-- Yesterday's win was the Eagles' sixth in a row over the Giants.

-- With two regular-season games left to play, the Eagles have scored 412 points. That's just 17 less than last season's franchise-record 429.

-- For just the seventh time this season, the Eagles failed to score on their first possession. It was only the third time this season that they failed to score on either their first or second possession.

-- Three of LeSean McCoy's 10 rushing attempts were double-digit runs. He's got eight carries of 10 or more yards in the last two games. That's one more than he had in his previous 111 rushing attempts.

-- Michael Vick's fourth-quarter touchdown run was his eighth of the season. That ties his career-high.

-- Vick's 130 rushing yards were the fourth most he's had in a game in his career. Vick now has 613 rushing yards this season. That's the fourth most he's had in a season.

-- The Eagles are 8-1 in games that Vick starts and finishes.

-- Eagles receivers have 54 receptions of 20 yards or more, including 14 of 40 yards or more.

-- For the 10th time in 14 games, the Eagles failed to hold their opponent to 17 points or less. The fewest games in a season that they've held team to 17 or less in the Andy Reid era is five (in 1999).

-- The Eagles gave up just three rushing first downs to the Giants. They've allowed just 41 rushing first downs in the last 10 games after giving up 33 in the first four games.

-- The Eagles now have given up 30 touchdown passes this season. That's a franchise record. The previous record was 29 in 1967 and 1987.

-- The Eagles recorded their 23rd interception yesterday. They've had at least one in 13 of 14 games. The most interceptions in a season in the Reid era is 28 in '99. The most in franchise history is 33 in 1944.

-- The Eagles converted three of four red-zone opportunities into touchdowns yesterday. They are 9-for-14 in the last three games. In the eight games before that, they were 12-for-31.

-- The defense has allowed 21 touchdowns in 25 goal-to-go situations, including one yesterday. They have given up 30 touchdowns in 39 red-zone opportunities (76.9 percent).

-- Trent Cole leads the Eagles in sacks with nine, but has been shut out in five of the last six games, including yesterday.

-- The Eagles' five penalties yesterday were their second fewest of the season. They had just three in their Week 12 loss to Chicago. They also had five in their Week 5 win over San Francisco.