Sterling Shepard has been a part of only four Giants-Eagles games, but that’s a big enough bite out of this decades-old rivalry to experience its intensity and meaning.
“I feel like it’s a dogfight no matter what the record is, or the team,” the Giants receiver said.
He thought back to last year’s early-season game in Philadelphia, and the emotions were still fresh. “I remember that like it was yesterday,” he said of a 27-24 loss on Sept. 24, 2017.
The Giants had rallied in spectacular fashion in the fourth quarter, taking their first lead of the game, 21-14, on Shepard’s 77-yard touchdown reception from Eli Manning. After the teams battled to a 24-24 tie, Eagles rookie kicker Jake Elliott nailed a 61-yard field goal as time expired to give Philadelphia the win.
The loss dropped the Giants to 0-3 on the way to a 3-13 disaster during which the team fired coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese. The Eagles used the victory as a springboard for a nine-game winning streak and wound up winning the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.
The stakes of Thursday night’s resumption of the rivalry again were huge: The Giants, coming off another last-second loss — this time on Graham Gano’s 63-yard field goal in a 33-31 decision in Carolina — were desperate for a win at 1-4. The Eagles got out of the gate slowly, going 2-3 as the defending Super Bowl champions.
“My history that goes back playing the New York Giants, it doesn’t matter what the records are,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “It doesn’t matter who’s coaching what team or the personnel on either side, it’s just a matter of each team’s will and the person or the team that takes care of the football, eliminates or reduces penalties, has success in the red zone, that typically wins this game.”
Pederson got the best of the Giants in both regular-season games last year and then did a masterful job in transitioning from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles after Wentz was felled by a knee injury last December. Wentz is back under center after missing the first two games, and while he has shown some rust while recovering from his injury, Pederson said his quarterback is “trending in the right direction.”
“Carson physically came back in outstanding shape — knee was strong, lower body was strong, upper body was strong,” Pederson said. “It’s just now a matter of getting him comfortable again with the offense. It’s only been a couple of weeks and getting in a rhythm and getting into a flow and getting back to what he’s comfortable in doing. It’s been a little bit of a work in progress, he improves every week and he continues to show progress in that direction.”
Manning has been a part of the Giants-Eagles rivalry since his rookie season in 2004 and thus is quite familiar with how these games can impact both teams. Last year was simply the latest example. He also can go back to 2010, when the Giants were on the verge of closing out the Eagles with a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead. The Giants blew it down the stretch, surrendering 28 unanswered points to lose, 38-31. Coach Tom Coughlin was so disconsolate afterward that he sequestered himself for hours in a darkened room at his home to review the game in his mind.
The Giants missed the playoffs that year, but that game gave Coughlin his one-word theme for the next season: Finish.
The Giants did just that, getting into the playoffs with a 9-7 record before going on to win his second Super Bowl.
There’s no telling whether Thursday’s renewal of the rivalry will have a similar impact on either team, but the Giants were well aware what a loss could do to their chances. “It’s Philadelphia. You want to beat them,” Odell Beckham Jr. said. “Defending Super Bowl champs coming in here, Thursday night game. This is a game that we need to win against a division rival.”
Season on the brink.