Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

To the surprise of almost everyone, the New York Giants are not only in first place in the NFC East but they are making all the right moves to secure a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

They beat Philadelphia on Sunday, 26-23 in overtime, and in so doing recorded a sweep of the two-game home-and-home series for the first time since 2000, when they did it for the fourth consecutive year.

They are 9-4, and with both Carolina and Chicago having absorbed losses on the same day, their hopes for a week of rest are just slightly closer to fruition.

But it was not a victory without cost. After moving through the first dozen games of the season with relative health, the Giants lost both offensive tackles, Luke Petitgout and Kareem McKenzie, although at this time it is not clear for how long a period.

Petitgout appeared to have suffered a wrenched back -- "something just locked in his back," said coach Tom Coughlin, "and we were hopeful that we'd get him back (in the game) but it was not to be -- while McKenzie limped off in the second quarter with an apparent hamstring issue.

More will be known after MRI procedures are taken on both players.

Also, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce left the game with an ankle sprain. He returned, however, and seemed to play at his usual level. Defensive tackle William Joseph, who had just returned after three weeks on the shelf with a dislocated elbow, left again with a leg injury.

To replace Pierce, the Giants moved weak-side linebacker Nick Greisen into the middle and took Reggie Torbor from the bench and put him in at the weak side. Strong-side linebacker Carlos Emmons, who earlier in the season had played some at weak side, stayed where he was.

On the offensive line, the changes dictated by the injuries to Petitgout and McKenzie put reserve Bob Whitfield on the field at left tackle, moved left guard David Diehl to McKenzie's right tackle spot and put reserve Jason Whittle on the field at left guard.

"These are key players," Coughlin said, "and especially because we have a short week (the Giants play Kansas City Saturday) it will be critical to get them back."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Sunday's overtime game was the Giants' third of the season, matching two other seasons in which they played a trio of extra quarters -- 2003 and 1981. They are 8-6-2 in overtime road games, 14-14-2 overall.

-- The sack parade continues: DE Michael Strahan had two, running his total to 11.5 for the season. DE Osi Umenyiora had 1.5, maintaining his team (and NFC) lead with 12.5. In all, the Giants sacked Eagles QB Mike McMahon six times, a season high and most since Sept. 7, 2003, against St. Louis (and QB Kurt Warner).

-- Strahan now has 129.5 career sacks, moving him past Rickey Jackson (128) and into ninth place in the NFL's career listing. Former Giants LB Lawrence Taylor (who holds the team career mark) and DE Leslie O'Neal are tied for eighth at 132.5.

-- K Jay Feely made all four FG tries vs. the Eagles, including the game winner with 3:55 remaining in OT, a 36-yarder. "I think my field goal got rid of the demons," joked Feely. "Not mine, but yours (the media). You'll have to find something else to write about, you know?"

-- Feely now has 119 points based on 35 for 35 in extra point tries and 28 of 34 field goals. The team kick-scoring record is 127 (Ali Haji-Sheikh, 1983).

-- RB Tiki Barber had his fourth consecutive 100-yard-plus game, carrying the ball 32 times for 124 yards and raising his season total to 1,357. His personal high for a season is 1,518 set last year. "This is December football when it means something," he said, "and this is what they pay me for. I must perform. I will not be a liability to the team."

-- TE Jeremy Shockey had 10 receptions for 107 yards, moving him close to WR Plaxico Burress for the team lead in receptions. He now has 60 for the season while Burress, who had only two receptions for 37 yards, has 66. But Burress' yardage put him over the 1,000-yard mark at 1,012.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

-- MLB Antonio Pierce was to undergo an MRI on his injured ankle, and coach Tom Coughlin declined to guess whether he'd be ready for Saturday's game until he saw the results. "If I say something and it is incorrect, this guy is a guy that has fought his way back from things before," Coughlin said. "I am not expecting anything miraculous here. But I had rather state exactly what the doctor tells me."

-- RT Kareem McKenzie limped off Sunday with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, and the team was waiting Monday for the results of an MRI. "I hope Kareem that can be a guy -- you mentioned Kareem -- that we can get back in a short amount of time," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Obviously it would be great if we could get him for this weekend."

-- LT Luke Petitgout left Sunday's game with a back injury that he is likely to have to play through for the rest of the season. "There wasn't any real warning signal here. All of a sudden it just became a factor in the game," coach Tom Coughlin said. "He was playing well and all of a sudden he wasn't playing at all. And they termed it that his back locked up on him. He felt during the course of the game that he was making some progress. But it would have been a most difficult thing to have someone else go down and have to go back to Luke to see if he could go, because I really don't think he could have."

-- RB Tiki Barber continues to receive a heavy workload, which has to be a concern as the season drags on. "We have tried to be very aware of his catches and his carries," coach Tom Coughlin said. "(Sunday) I think he accounted for 195 total offense. His number did go up from the week before a little bit. But you know what, you have to understand now, you end up playing five quarters. You are trying to win the game - late in the game and in overtime. We had 85 snaps (Sunday). That is a lot of snaps in professional football."

-- K Jay Feely made all four field-goal attempts Sunday and also improved on his kickoffs, but coach Tom Coughlin said there wasn't a specific adjustment. "If you watch the game closely you saw him improve while the game was going on," Coughlin said. "He did have two touchbacks (Sunday). He kicked the ball well; he seemed to have very good timing. I thought his fundamentals, as far as where his plant foot was, and his head and his follow through, and all of that, seemed to be in order. I think he played himself right back into a very solid game."

-- WR Jamaar Taylor banged his knee in practice last week, the same ACL that has bothered him since facing Dallas. He knee had swelled up when he reported to practice last Friday and his status for this weekend's game is uncertain.

REPORT CARD VS EAGLES

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- QB Eli Manning had an erratic day, completing 28 of 44 attempts for 312 yards and one touchdown, but throwing three interceptions and over- and under- throwing several clear receivers. TE Jeremy Shockey was not immune to a few drops, even though he caught 10 passes for 107 yards to lead all receivers. Pass-blocking suffered when LT Luke Petitgout (back) and RT Kareem McKenzie (hamstring) had to leave. Yet the enigma is that the Giants and Manning accounted for 19 of their 38 first downs by passing and for 299 of their 437 net offensive yards in the air. Seven different receivers had at least one catch, an indication that the game plan is now expanding.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Giants' rushing offense was named Tiki Barber. He carried 32 times for 124 yards, leaving Manning as the second-leading rusher with eight yards. Blocking for the run was spotty; several times Barber would hit the middle of the line only to be stood up, but on other times he received clearing blocks from McKenzie (until he left) and RG Chris Snee. The emphasis on Barber's carries allowed the Giants to create a monstrous edge in time of possession. They held the ball for 43 minutes, 30 seconds, their highest since Nov. 20, 1983, when they held the ball 45:43.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Giants allowed Eagles QB Mike McMahon to complete only 14 of 32 passes for 190 yards and they sacked him six times, most since a similar number of traps were recorded on Sept. 7, 2003, against St. Louis and QB Kurt Warner (who played for them the following season). Still, there are concerns about the secondary, especially the right corner position where Curtis Deloatch is having a difficult time filling in for injured William Peterson (lower back). It appears likely that Peterson may not play again this season, which begs the question: Who is Deloatch holding the spot for, rookie Corey Webster? He, too, is having problems and the team can only hope that he is guilty of nothing more than rookie mistakes.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- With star RB Brian Westbrook out for the season, one might have expected a shutdown of the Eagles' running game, especially considering how well the Giants' defense has played. But rookie Ryan Moats had his first 100-yard-plus game (11 carries for 114 yards) and added two touchdowns as well on end sweeps of 40 and 18 yards. In all, the Eagles gained 175 yards on the ground, averaging seven yards for each of their 25 total running plays. Missed tackles were well in evidence.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Nothing unusual, good or bad, befell the Giants special teams. Willie Ponder returned to his kick return duties after sitting out three weeks for fumbling and took back five of them for 95 yards. Chad Morton had two punt returns for 19 yards. Jeff Feagles punted only twice (35-yard average, 21.0 net). But the coverage squads were relatively stable. Reno Mahe took back only one punt for 28 yards; Roderick Hood had five kick returns for 122 yards. PK Jay Feely was successful on all four field goal tries, including his game-winner of 36 yards in overtime. He has now made 28 of 34 field goals for the season.

COACHING: D -- Coach Tom Coughlin committed a gaffe at the end of the first half and should be considered lucky to have gotten away with it. He declined a penalty that would have moved the Eagles back to the Giants' 34 (at the same time negating another sack by DE Michael Strahan) and allowed Philly to tie the score at 17-17 with 21 seconds left when David Akers was good from 42 yards. "I didn't want to give them another down," he said later, apparently not aware that he gave the Eagles three points in a tightly-contested game. The defense wasn't as effective as it has been, surprising because the Eagles' Brian Westbrook didn't play. Pass defense was ordinary (and that's a compliment).

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