Wins have been hard to come by for the Giants this season, but the few they have enjoyed came without wide receiver Sterling Shepard on the field. He was out with an ankle injury when they beat the Broncos and suffering from a migraine when they topped the Chiefs.
So when the Giants embarked on a drive for a potential game-winning touchdown in the final minutes Sunday, he was thinking that this would be it.
A chance to celebrate.
“I was itching for one,” he said, confident in the outcome.
Instead, the drive ended with Shepard and teammate Roger Lewis Jr. flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after Shepard ripped his helmet off not in merriment but in frustration. He was left screaming at the officials after Eli Manning’s fourth-and-goal pass from the 11 sailed out of the end zone without a penalty on what appeared to be a physical play by both Giants tight end Evan Engram and Eagles safety Corey Graham.
That play sealed Philadelphia’s 34-29 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
“I think that’s the reason why it got to me like that,” Shepard said after the game, reflecting on just how close he and the Giants had come to savoring that rarest of commodities this season: a win. “I usually don’t let that type of stuff happen, but I was staring dead at it and I was like, ‘What are you looking at?’ ”
The best team in the NFC beat the worst team in the NFC, so it’s nothing surprising. That it was a close game in which the Giants had so many opportunities to reverse that paradigm was a bit startling. In the end, all they were left with was another loss. The main difference was that this one was close enough to elicit some anguish.
Not even a vintage performance by Manning, who threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns, could prevent that.
“I don’t know if you take much away from it,” Manning said. “Who got the win?”
Not the Giants, who fell to 2-12. The Eagles improved to 12-2, clinched a bye in the first round of the playoffs and had backup quarterback Nick Foles throw four touchdown passes in his first start in place of Carson Wentz.
The result hinged on that final pass in the end zone from the 11 after right tackle Bobby Hart committed a false start from the 6, but the Giants left plenty of points on the field earlier in the game that would have made a big difference in that final act. They had an extra point and a field goal blocked, and Manning was sacked on a two-point conversion attempt. That’s six points in a five-point game.
Throw in two short-field touchdowns for the Eagles — one after an interception, the other after a blocked punt — in the second quarter as Philadelphia erased a 20-7 deficit, and the Giants really should have been taking a knee on that final drive rather than pushing for the end zone.
That wasn’t the case, though, so it came down to the fourth-and-goal play. After Engram and Graham tussled at the back of the end zone, Engram popped up from the experience looking for a flag that never came. The Eagles got the ball back with 43 seconds remaining.
“My arm was kind of held, it was obvious,” Engram said. “I went up for the ball, it was obvious that he was kind of arm-guarding me, but no call . . . I’m not the type of guy to get in a ref’s face or anything, or go crazy, but that was tough. We were right there, we drove down the field, two-minute drive against the best team in the NFC. It was tough.”
The Giants, who produced touchdowns on their first three drives, have lost their two games to the likely top seed in the upcoming playoffs by a total of eight points. In Week 3, the Eagles scored two field goals in the final 51 seconds of the game — including a 61-yarder as time ran out — to post a 27-24 win.
“I think it shows what this team is capable of,” Shepard said.
But it also shows what it isn’t. And as Shepard knows all too well, there have been a lot more of those examples this season.
The 2017 Giants are the sixth team in franchise history to lose 12 games (with two games remaining). Three of the five previous 12-loss teams finished .500 or better the following season:
Year Record Next Season Record
2003 4-12 20046-10
1983 3-12-1 19849-7*
1966 1-12-1 19677-7