For the Giants to even consider making a run at the playoffs, they must by necessity win six of their remaining seven games. If they do that, the other achievement will be, in all likelihood, to save the job of Jim Fassel, their head coach.
As they prepare to meet the Eagles on Sunday in their first visit to the new Lincoln Financial Field -- "The Linc" -- both missions were on their minds.
"None of this (a 4-5 record and several last-minute defeats) is Jim's fault," says defensive end Michael Strahan. "It's on us. It has to be the team, the guys, who turn it around."
Easier said than done, considering the recent games. They include an overtime loss to Dallas when a kickoff with 11 seconds to play in regulation went out of bounds and put the Cowboys on their 40, from where it was almost no effort to tie the game with a field goal and then win it with another. It includes a previous meeting with Philadelphia when the Giants, holding a 10-7 lead, allowed Brian Westbrook to return a punt 84 yards for a touchdown with 77 seconds to play. It included similar self-inflicted wounds in New England and at home against Miami, and last week the team just went into the deep chill, showing almost no emotion in a 27-7 loss to then 1-7 Atlanta.
The job of winning crucial games -- "our backs are up against the wall now for sure," says running back Tiki Barber, whose five lost fumbles haven't helped -- became more difficult with the loss of tight end Jeremy Shockey for the season, along with cornerback Will Peterson and a portfolio full of others with injuries ranging from three-four weeks for cornerback Ralph Brown (dislocated shoulder) to questionable status for wide receiver Ike Hilliard.
"I do not even think about the job," Fassel says. "It would be foolish. No coach can operate if he is focusing on losses that could cost him his job. When you take a job you know the dangers. You know the nature of the beast. All you can do is your best and hope it works out, but nobody is naove around here."
SERIES HISTORY: This is the 138th meeting between the teams and the Giants hold a 73-62-2 lead overall. They also hold a 2-0 lead in postseason encounters. The Eagles won the first meeting this year, 14-10, on a punt returned 84 yards for the game-winning TD by Brian Westbrook with 77 seconds remaining.
Over the years there have been several significant meetings, perhaps none as memorable as "The Fumble" game, which is almost exactly 25 years old this week. It was Nov. 18, 1978, when the Giants, holding a 12-10 lead with 31 seconds to play, in possession of the ball and the Eagles without a timeout, chose not to take a knee but to run a single final play.
It was called Power-Up 65, and required QB Joe Pisarcik to take the handoff from center Jim Clack, execute a 180-degree spin and hand off to RB Larry Csonka. But the snap was seconds late, Pisarcik bobbled it and tried to hand the hot potato off to Zonk anyway. It hit off his hip, bounced once directly into the hands of Philadelphia corner Herman Edwards (now the Jets' head coach) and he took it 26 yards for the game winning points.
In 2000, the Giants won three meetings with the Eagles, twice during the regular season and again in the second round of the playoffs, a 20-10 victory that put them into the NFC Championship game and subsequently into Super Bowl XXXV.
SERIES HISTORY: 140th meeting. Giants lead the series, 75-62-2. The Eagles beat the Giants three weeks ago at Giants Stadium, 14-10, when Brian Westbrook returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown with 1:16 left in the game.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--With the loss of tight end Jeremy Shockey for the remainder of the season, the Giants are faced with starting a former undrafted FA (Marcellus Rivers) backed up by their third round draft pick this year (Visanthe Shiancoe) and another undrafted FA (Darnell Dinkins) who has been tried at two other positions (QB, SS) prior to settling in at TE.
Asked whether the Eagles' defense was "excited" not to have to deal with the superstar Shockey, QB Donovan McNabb responded: "We'd have to play the game anyway, and I'm sure they (the Giants) are going to do things to make up for that loss."
--With four turnovers last week against the Atlanta Falcons (a 27-7 defeat that all but sealed the team's playoff chances) the Giants are back to a minus-7 in the NFC's take-away/give-away chart. Philadelphia is at minus-1. The Giants still rank seconds in overall offense in the NFL and are 20th in overall defense; the Eagles are 27th in total offense, 16th in total defense.
--The Giants placed CB Will Peterson on Injured Reserve, shelving him for the rest of the season, and to replace him signed FA Ike Charlton (5-11, 204), once a second-round draft pick by Seattle traded to Jacksonville in 2002 for a conditional pick and released last Aug. 30. With the three-to-four week loss of corner Ralph Brown (dislocated shoulder), the Giants will start rookie (sixth round) Frank Walker at RCB. He will be backed up by veteran journeyman Kato Serwanga and Charlton.
The loss of Shockey takes away 48 receptions for 535 yards and two TDs, and he was the team leader by one reception. WR Ike Hilliard has 47 for 490 and six TDs and almost without question will take the receiving lead -- unless it goes to starting RB Tiki Barber, who has caught 44 for 271 yards and zero TDs.
--After last week's loss, head coach Jim Fassel addressed his team and said: "You guys must be trying to get me fired." He meant it sarcastically, but several of the veterans took it seriously.
"We feel bad for ourselves and Coach," said MLB Mike Barrow, "and we don't feel we are going to turn into a losing team. I don't care what our record is at the moment (it's 4-5), and I still think we are going to make the playoffs." By all logic, the Giants need to "run the table" in their final seven games to have a legitimate playoff chance. They play Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Washington, New Orleans, Dallas and Carolina to close out their regular season schedule.
--LDE Michael Strahan leads the team with 10 sacks, placing him second in the NFL behind Simeon Rice of Tampa Bay and Michael Rucker of Carolina, each of whom has 11. DE Shaun Ellis of the Jets leads the AFC with 9.5. It was the sixth consecutive game in which Strahan has had at least one sack. Barber moved ahead of the late Joe Morrison in all-time Giant reception leaders; he has 397 for his career, and Toomer is just five behind (and three behind Morrison) with 392. Toomer, however, is the team's all time leading in receiving yardage with 6,002 (Frank Gifford had 5,434 and is second).
--Giants' LCB Will Allen and Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb were teammates at Syracuse University; Allen was a first round pick in 2000, McNabb a first rounder in 1999.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- The number of points the Giants are being outscored in the aggregate fourth quarters of their nine games; also, 20 is the number of points the Giants are outscoring their opponents in the second quarters of those nine games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is not about Jim (head coach Fassel). This is about us. It's all on us and whatever happens, it's going to be our responsibility." -- Giants' RB Tiki Barber on the Giants' embarrassing loss to the Falcons, 27-7, which prompted (for the first time) chants of "FI-re FASS-el, FI-re FASS-el."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With the loss of TE Jeremy Shockey for the rest of the season (partially torn knee ligaments) there is a suspicion that the Giants might try to minimize the production from that position and concentrate on three WRs, who would be starters Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard (listed as questionable with knee and ankle injuries) with Tim Carter the third. However, Carter suffered a concussion last week and there is some doubt that he'll play (he's listed as probable), so the third wideout at that point could be Barber or rookie David Tyree (used primarily on special teams to date).
Additionally, the loss of RCB Ralph Brown (the replacement for Will Peterson, who was placed on Injured Reserve) should move rookie Frank Walker into stating status, clearly a target for Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb.
--SS Johnnie Harris (hamstring) should miss his third straight game, leaving Ryan Clark as the only backup safety behind Omar Stoutmire (FS) and Shaun Williams (SS).
--WR Ike Hilliard (ankle, knee) is also listed as questionable, but insists he'll play. "I'll be OK," he said. "I have already missed too many games (26) in my career."
--RDE Kenny Holmes (knees) is a probable entry. Both knees are sore but should not exclude him from playing but his stock in trade, his quick start, might be somewhat compromised.
--TE Marcellus Rivers (throat, shoulder), suddenly the starter in the absence of Jeremy Shockey, was hit in the throat last week, checked into a hospital but released himself at 2 a.m. Monday. He also suffered a subflex of his shoulder but is listed as probable and almost certainly will play.
GAME PLAN: At this point, the Giants will try to play strong defense while passing the ball into short and medium range locations. The young and still rebuilding O-line doesn't permit QB Kerry Collins too much time for the deep routes to develop. RB Tiki Barber (who has already lost five fumbles this season) has historically played well against the Eagles and should be the first option used.
Without Shockey, Collins' passing game will focus on Barber and WR Amani Toomer, especially if Hilliard suddenly can't make it. The defense will attempt to keep Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb in the pocket, where he is less likely to save broken plays or tight coverage by running the ball. Eagles' RB Duce Staley has almost never had a big game against the Giants.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: LDE Michael Strahan of the Giants has 10 sacks this year, and at least one in the last six games. He gets to play an old rival, RT Jon Runyan, against whom he has had considerable success.
--Giants' CB Frank Walker, a rookie (second of three sixth round picks) will start in place of Ralph Brown, and he would be the target of QB Donovan McNabb's attention from the opening kickoff.
--Giants' RG David Diehl, another rookie who has started all season, will have another go-round against Eagles' LT Corey Simon, whom he handled with surprising success in the first meeting of the teams Oct. 19.
INJURY IMPACT: The Giants are more vulnerable because of injuries than they have been all season. They have lost TE Jeremy Shockey (partially torn knee ligaments), CB Will Peterson (fractured vertebra), CB Ralph Brown (dislocated shoulder) in recent weeks. Marcellus Rivers will replace Shockey and rookie Frank Walker will replace Brown (who in turn replaced Peterson). The injuries hamstring both the offensive passing game and the defensive pass coverage abilities of the Giants.
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