EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Odell Beckham Jr. snagged Eli Manning's pass by the sideline, cut toward the middle of the field past safety Malcolm Jenkins and, after strutting backward the final 10 yards leading to the end zone, fired the ball at the wall that separates the field from the stands at MetLife Stadium.
The explosive rookie's 63-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown didn't end up factoring into which team won and which team lost yesterday's meaningless Week 17 game, but it accentuated yet another woeful performance from the Eagles' most-maligned position group. A whopping 343 receiving yards between Beckham and Rueben Randle did nothing to dispel the notion that the Eagles' defensive backfield is in need of a makeover if the team is to make the playoffs next season.
Perhaps aside from the uncertainty regarding who will line up under center come September, the secondary - cornerback in particular - is the Eagles' biggest question mark entering the offseason. The Giants became the latest team to punctuate that fact, Manning's 429 passing yards signifying his most since New York's 2013 season opener, Randle's 158 receiving yards marking a career best and Beckham simply continuing his historic nine-game stretch.
All that even after the struggling Bradley Fletcher watched the game from the sideline because of a hip injury and Nolan Carroll II, whom fans had clamored to see instead of Fletcher for weeks, started at left cornerback in the Eagles' season-ending, 34-26 win.
Manning targeted Beckham 21 times, the most any receiver in the NFL had been targeted in a game this season. He caught 12 of those passes for 185 yards, meaning that over the last 3 weeks of the season Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson and Beckham combined for 22 receptions, 425 yards and four touchdowns against the Eagles.
Defending plays of 20 yards or more continued to prove problematic, though it must be noted the pass rush didn't sack Manning once after doing so eight times in the teams' first meeting in Week 6.
"We have to get better," Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. "There's no question about that. We improved in every category except the deep passes. The deep passes are what get the long yards, the touchdowns, the points. We have to get that fixed. We will during this offseason."
It's anyone's guess as to what form the secondary will take in the coming months, but it will surely look different in 2015.
Fletcher's 2-year contract expired with the final seconds of yesterday's finale, as did the 1-year deal safety Nate Allen inked last March. Cary Williams has 1 more year remaining on his deal, but his cap hit jumps from $6.4 million to $8.1 next season, so he's not a sure thing to come back, either.
"To be honest with you, I haven't thought about it," Williams said. "If I am back, great. I'm not back, great. I still feel confident in myself and my abilities. I still feel like I could play at this level at a high level, and I'm going to go out there and compete each and every week.
"Either way, it doesn't matter to me. If I'm back, it would be awesome. It would be great. I want to be back. But if I'm not back, then it's life, life in the National Football League."
Carroll, who replaced Fletcher in the fourth quarter of the Week 16 loss at Washington, allowed consecutive catches of 43 yards and 19 yards, respectively, to Randle on the game's first drive but finished the game with a pair of pass breakups. Brandon Boykin recorded three of his own, including one in the end zone intended for Beckham, and Williams tallied two pass defenses. Nate Allen had one to go with his game-sealing interception, his third pick in five games. But it's the 429 attached to Manning's stats that sticks out above all else.
Fletcher's inactivity for the game and the Eagles' seasonlong reluctance to play the 5-10 Boykin on the outside also meant the first defensive snaps of Jaylen Watkins' pro career. When the defense was in dime, Carroll slotted into his normal spot at dime 'backer and Watkins, the fourth-round draft pick out of Florida, played on the outside.
Watkins' Sundays were spent mostly as an inactive, save for three prior games in which he dressed and played on special teams. Yesterday ensured him real game film to critique during his first NFL offseason. He was credited with one pass breakup, on a deep ball intended for Beckham. On Beckham's touchdown, Watkins jammed him at the line before falling victim to the receiver's counter move and losing his footing.
"Jaylen looked like he had a solid game," Davis said. "He made some mistakes and gave up some big plays but then he also stepped up and did all right on a couple of plays. It looked like a guy in his first time in the NFL and it's a heck of a challenge with the weapons the Giants have."