In one of the wackiest games of the season, it came down to an old-fashioned 91-yard drive.
The Eagles, who dismantled the Giants' defense in last night's critical NFC East battle at Giants Stadium, cut out the funny business and embarked on a 12-play, 91-yard drive that lasted 7:24, never saw a third down, and ended with a 1-yard run by Leonard Weaver for a 43-31 lead with 5:48 remaining.
The Giants, who managed to hang with the Eagles despite a woeful defensive performance and several quirky miscues and odd turns of events, responded to that touchdown drive with a touchdown drive of their own to close to 45-38 with 1:31 left.
The Giants' onside kick went out of bounds and they forced the Eagles to punt, but after getting the ball at their 5-yard line with 28 seconds left, a Giants offense that had gained 505 yards to that point was out of tricks and out of time. Eli Manning fumbled while scrambling and the Eagles kneeled on the win.
The 45-38 loss essentially knocked the Giants (7-6) out of the division race. They are two games behind the 9-4 Eagles (who have swept them for a head-to-head tiebreaker) with three games to play. They remain a game behind the Cowboys (8-5) for the final wild-card spot in the NFC.
First place in the NFC East was lying on the ground, just waiting for one of the Giants to pick it up. Osi Umenyiora and Clint Sintim stood over it - practically kicked it aside - without so much as a glance. It was as worthless as a penny on a muddy street not worth bending over for.
Had anyone with a blue shirt on had the wherewithal to scoop the ball up, it would have completely changed the tenor of the game and likely sent the teams into halftime tied. Instead, the Eagles were given the ball on an unrecovered fumble and went down and scored to lead 30-17 at the break.
Umenyiora, who appears to be good for one big play per game, came around from behind Donovan McNabb on second-and-10 from the Eagles' 42. Umenyiora hit McNabb's arm as he was preparing to throw and the quarterback coughed it up. The ball floated and Michael Boley nearly caught it before it hit the ground, which probably would have been a touchdown or at least left the Giants in good position to tie it at 24.
But when Boley dropped the ball, everyone on the Giants assumed it was an incomplete pass. There apparently was an inadvertent whistle on the field as well. But the officials ruled it was a fumble, that McNabb's arm was not going forward at the time the ball came out, and the freebie just stood there on the turf at the 32-yard line.
Ultimately, the officials gave up waiting for someone to pick up the ball and just set the ball at the place where the ball came to rest for the next play, a third-and-20 from the 32. That's when McNabb hit DeSean Jackson for a 44-yard pass to get into field-goal range. He then hit Brent Celek on a 23-yarder to get into touchdown range before Michael Vick came in and scooted around the left side for a 1-yard score.
Every day in training camp the Giants worked on "scooping and scoring" on defense. In last night's game, they did neither.
The unrecovered fumble was just one of the miscues that haunted the Giants. The Eagles also scored touchdowns on a fumble by Brandon Jacobs and a punt return by Jackson. The Eagles also scored a "traditional" touchdown on their first possession when McNabb hit Celek to cap a 67-yard drive.
The mayhem continued into the second half when Jonathan Goff intercepted a pass for Celek to give the Giants first-and-10 at the Eagles' 29. Then Manning scrambled for 15 yards but fumbled when he hit the ground without sliding feet first. The ball was recovered by the Eagles. But the Eagles punted, and two plays later Manning hit Domenik Hixon - who had lost containment on the Jackson punt return - for a 61-yard touchdown to give the Giants their first lead, 31-30, with 5:12 left in the third.
It was a lead that lasted all of 15 seconds. McNabb hit Jackson on a 60-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage, beating safety Aaron Ross and going into the end zone in a reverse trot for a 37-31 lead.