PHILADELPHIA — Cry, Giants, cry.
The door to the NFC East title had been left ajar for them over the previous few days, and it looked as if it would be creaking open even more when the Giants led by 16 points late in the first half. Then it pretty much slammed shut on them, thanks to a discouraging, disheartening and virtually disqualifying 25-22 loss to the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
With the score tied at 22, the Giants allowed the Eagles to convert a fourth-and-1 from the Giants’ 41 – Carson Wentz hit Nelson Agholor for 12 yards – to set up Jake Elliott’s winning 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining.
That it came against a reeling Eagles team with hardly any healthy players in the secondary made the loss sting only slightly less than the big-picture implications. A win would have brought the Giants within two games of first place with five to play. Instead, they dropped to 3-8, three games behind the first-place tie at 6-5 between the Cowboys and Redskins. The Eagles (5-6) are a game back.
“Things were looking great for us. We were on a roll,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “But we weren’t able to come up with this one and it hurts, man.”
The Giants came into the game riding a wave of optimism and a two-game winning streak, but that wave crashed on top of them. Odell Beckham Jr. has been trying to will the Giants into running the table and making a push for the playoffs since the bye week, when he set 8-0 as the goal for the second half of the season. Asked what this loss does for the team’s budding swagger, Beckham chuckled.
“It’s pretty obvious,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious.”
The Giants dominated the first half but led by only one possession at the break. Saquon Barkley caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive and sprinted for a 51-yard touchdown with 4:06 left in the second quarter to give the Giants a 19-3 lead in a game that appeared to be heading toward a blowout.
Instead, the Eagles drove 75 yards for a touchdown on a 15-yard pass to Zach Ertz and ran for the two-point conversion to make it 19-11 with 1:04 left in the half.
The Giants had an opportunity to extend the lead and were in field-goal range at the Eagles’ 27 when Eli Manning threw an interception at the 2 with five seconds left.
The Giants’ third-quarter offense looked more like the unit that played in the first half . . . of the season, not this game. They reverted to a group that could not move the ball.
After gaining 346 yards on 36 plays in the first two quarters, the Giants ran nine plays for 3 net yards with one first down in the third. With Beckham in the locker room getting an IV to battle cramping on the opening possession and Barkley given a breather on the second possession, the Giants did not have their two best players on the field together in the second half until two seconds remained in the third quarter.
The Eagles made it 19-14 with a field goal, and Josh Adams scored on a 1-yard run with 10:11 left in the game. His two-point conversion run gave Philadelphia a 22-19 lead.
The Giants tied it at 22 with 5:49 left on Aldrick Rosas’ 29-yard field goal, but they had a great chance to take the lead on that drive. After Manning hit Beckham for 19 yards to convert a third-and-8 and hit Rhett Ellison for 29 yards to get to the 17, the Giants had third-and-4 at the 11. Manning threw to Beckham in the end zone, and cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc appeared to tug on Beckham’s jersey twice on the route. The pass went off Beckham’s hands, and no flag was thrown.
“I play receiver, not referee,” Beckham said of not getting the call. “[Expletive] happens.”
This year, more than expected for the Giants. This loss sets up a slow march through the final month of the season in which the Giants likely will take a look at their other quarterbacks in some capacity. It also could bring to an end a number of tenures with the team. While a win would have bought the Giants nothing more than time to keep believing in the highly improbable, the repercussions of this loss will be felt throughout the offseason.
Pat Shurmur insisted that his focus is on getting ready for the Bears on Sunday. But for many Giants, the future is a lot hazier.
“It’s hard,” said safety Landon Collins, a pending free agent this offseason. “Where do you go from here? I don’t know. I don’t know.”