Life is as it should be in the NFC East. With three weeks left in the season, it is all about the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys. Just as the script said it would be.
Or so it seemed, anyway.
Heading into last night's game against the Eagles, the Giants had a chance to move into first place in the division - an unlikely scenario given their recent five-losses-in-six-games skid. But with a season-saving win over the Cowboys last week and with Dallas again going belly-up in another December game against the Chargers Sunday, it was all right there for the taking.
It was another chance for Eli Manning to give his team some more late-season heroics. Another chance for a December run that earns an invitation into January. After all the drama of the first 12 games, it's a wonder Manning's Giants even had that chance.
A 5-0 start. A foot injury. A midseason slump that nearly put the Giants out of the running. And then last week's terrific effort against the Cowboys to get them right back in it.
And then this.
A 45-38 loss to the Eagles after yet another abysmal performance by the defense - maybe the worst one of all in a season of defensive meltdowns.
With so much resting on Manning's shoulders and his gimpy foot, there was only so much one man could do. And he did all he possibly could.
As the Giants' defense and special teams continued their maddening run of unreliability, not even Manning could save them this time. But he did his best.
Down 14-0 less than six minutes into the game? No worries. Manning gets the Giants back to 14-10 with a field-goal drive and a TD pass to rookie Hakeem Nicks. The scoring pass came on a modest completion that Nicks turned into a 68-yard score after spinning away from safety Quintin Mikell. It made up for two dropped passes by Nicks earlier in the drive, one of which would have gone for a touchdown.
Down 24-10, Manning drove the Giants for another TD to get within seven.
Then it was 30-17, but even that wasn't insurmountable. Manning put them ahead 31-30 midway through the third quarter. But only for a few seconds; on the Eagles' next offensive play, Donovan McNabb hit a wide-open DeSean Jackson for a 60-yard touchdown.
In the end, Manning passed for 391 yards and three TDs as the Giants put up 512 yards of offense. Who would have thought 38 points wouldn't be enough to beat the Eagles?
With this Giants defense, it seems no amount of points is ever enough. For a franchise that has prided itself on putting out great defenses - even in the lean years of the 1970s - this has become nothing short of an embarrassment.
With so many problems on defense, it has become clear that even Manning can't lift this team. He has held up his end, playing through a foot injury that clearly was a factor through the middle portion of the season. But the same can't be said for the defense, which continues to struggle under defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, successor to the far more popular, effective Steve Spagnuolo.
Many of the same problems that surfaced in the Giants' 40-17 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia earlier this year were on display again.
Even so, Manning won't point the finger of blame at the defense. "We have faith in our defense," he said. "Each week, we have faith they'll get us the ball, get us turnovers. We expect to go out there and score points. We think we have firepower to run it or throw it. We have to get off to a better start, put some pressure on the opposing offense."
If Manning won't blame the defense, then we will. It's been awful too often. That's three games of at least 40 points allowed, and the Eagles scored 85 points against the Giants.
The Giants had a chance to move into a tie for first with a win and add another flourish to what could have been another stirring NFC East race. Instead, the defense melted down again.
Two games out of first with three to go? Now the division looks lost, with a wild card looking like the only alternative.
But more pathetic defense like this, and even Manning won't be able to save the Giants.