WITH ONLY seconds remaining in the first half, Brandon Hughes zeroed in on an Eli Manning pass headed for the back corner of the end zone. It seemed too good to be true.

On the preceding play - a second down - Hughes had played off the Giants receiver, who was able to create some separation by running an inside-out route. But Manning had gone elsewhere.

This time, on third down, with Dominik Hixon's footwork telling him to expect a similar route, Hughes played it the same way. Manning saw his receiver's separation and fired. Hughes was more than ready. He effectively closed the gap on Hixon and leaped for the ball.

The next thing he knew he was on one knee, empty-handed and disgusted. It would have been his first career interception and although Hixon seemed to have interfered with him on the play, Hughes couldn't believe it.

"You can't drop that on 'Sunday Night Football,' " he joked afterward. "Especially when you can take points off the board. That was the difference between them having no points and three. It might have been a different scenario at the end."

Hughes is right. Had he held onto the ball, the Eagles may have had more control of their destiny in their 19-17 victory. Still, Hughes was a big reason they won.

He entered the game early in the second quarter and didn't leave it until late in third, filling in for Nnamdi Asomugha, who was temporarily sidelined with an eye injury. Hughes was on the field for 26 plays, and while the Giants seemed to target him early, he proved up to the task. He finished with three tackles, two passes defensed and no big plays against.

That is probably why, in the postgame locker room, his grin was bigger than most.

"You wait a long time for an opportunity like that to get significant time," Hughes said. "It felt good to get out there and play significantly against the starters of another team. And to go out there and show my teammates that when they put me in, that we're not going to miss a beat."

Hughes is in his third season in Philadelphia after he was signed off the Giants' practice squad in 2010.

With the Eagles, Hughes has stood out on special teams and, this year, has manned the dime- corner role. His Sunday showcase barely lasted two quarters, but it was clear he made an impression.

"You know I thought he did a good job actually," Andy Reid said after the game. "He surely didn't shy away from competition there. He was right up in there, battling."

On Monday, Reid added, "I thought Brandon got up and challenged. They had the one catch on him, but he had a nice breakup on one of the plays. I thought he came in and played well."

In total, the Giants threw Hughes' way five times, resulting in three completions for 28 yards. Under a national spotlight, Hughes looked capable against the fearsome pass attack of the Super Bowl champs.

"I never doubt my ability," Hughes said, when asked if he could start on other teams. "I could start, but right now I am playing behind Nnamdi and Dominique [Rodgers-Cromartie] and I embrace my position. If it happens it happens."

Until then, Hughes is most importantly a valuable member of an Eagles kickoff unit that was torched by David Wilson and the Giants throughout Sunday's game.

"We will get it fixed," was all Hughes would offer afterward with regard to the special teams. He was dismayed but still smiling, as if the unit's performance was the only thing preventing Sunday's game from being perfect for him.

That, of course, and the one dropped pass that he wishes he could have back.

Contact Alex Lee at Leea@phillynews.com.