For the Birds

PHILADELPHIA – Monday Night's match-up served as a true measuring stick between the Giants and the club they're trying to wrest the NFC East title away from, the Eagles. The verdict came down, and not all that favorably for Big Blue. The Eagles were head and shoulders better than their Turnpike rivals, and beat them for the third straight time, 17-3, in front of 65,791 fans at Veterans Stadium.

"It's a disappointing game," Head Coach Jim Fassel said. "We aren't going to win a football game against a good football team, which they are, and emphasize the things that are allowing us to break down."

"It's disappointing," CB Will Peterson added. "We had a chance to really change our outlook on the season."

The Giants (3-4) fell under the .500 mark and dropped two games behind the Birds.

Two days before the big divisional showdown, Fassel walked out of practice and let his team leaders Michael Strahan, Micheal Barrow and Kerry Collins handle the final 20 minutes of the workout. As the clock ticked down at the Vet, Fassel had to be wishing that he could once again excuse himself early from the wreckage.

Eagles QB Donovan McNabb ran over, around and through the Giants defense all evening, and often threw over them in key spots for good measure. The Birds, behind, McNabb's 111 ground yards, rumbled for 299 rushing yards, and 422 in total.

"Every time you play the Eagles, the goal is to stop McNabb," Peterson said. "We didn't keep him in contain."

McNabb also added a backbreaking TD run in the final period.

Duce Staley also topped the century mark (126), giving Philly its first multi-100-yard rushing performance in seven years. The Birds averaged 7.7 yards per rush, an astronomical figure to say the least.

"We were able to use some different formations to be able to run the ball down their throats," Staley said.

Coming into the contest, by allowing only 84.8 yards per game, New York boasted one of the league's better run defenses. No longer.

It was clear that the Giants missed Keith Hamilton, but even his presence wouldn't have been enough to stop the Birds. Philly continued to run the same type of cutback running plays, with the Giants helpless to stop them.

"That [play] is not that hard to shut down," Fassel said. "They gashed us."

For the third consecutive contest, New York failed to force a turnover, and they lost one very key fumble.

"I thought we've been playing pretty good pass defense," SS Shaun Williams said. "But we haven't been able to get any turnovers.

And the Giants offense, was…well, the Giants offense. Big Blue was averaging only 14.3 points per game coming in. Their very modest total of three points in the City of Brotherly Love will do nothing to help that paltry figure.

"Offensively, you're just not going to win football games that way," Fassel said. "Seven touchdowns in seven games is not going to win a lot of football games.

"I think it's a good [Eagles] defense, but I am very frustrated with the offense right now. I am very frustrated with what we are doing and how we are doing it and everything that is going on. You get three points; it can't happen. We can always say, ‘oh, it's the penalties and fumbles.' The bottom line is always that we're not scoring points."

QB Kerry Collins had a nondescript evening, completing 20-of-34 passes for 251 yards with no TDs or INTs.

"It's frustrating right now," he said. "We're not creating luck for ourselves, that's for sure. We've had some plays that have cost us some games. We're trying to figure out why we can't score points and why we're not capitalizing on opportunities.

"It was the same old story for us tonight. We made plays, but we didn't make the plays that we needed to make."

Rookie TE Jeremy Shockey made his share of plays (six catches, 69 yards), but the Giants still fell way short.

"We're a good team," Shockey said. "It's not anybody else that is hurting us, it's us and that's what we need to realize. It's inexcusable that we beat ourselves. Nobody's going to beat us."

Well, maybe Donovan McNabb.

McNabb came out running on Philly's first drive, but Big Blue's defense held. McNabb busted off a 38-yard run, but the defense clamped down and Eagles K David Akers missed his first field goal of the season, a 50-yarder wide right.

Later in the opening quarter, the Eagles marched down the field again, buoyed by a 23-yard Staley run, and got on the scoreboard first, via a 27-yard Akers field goal. The Eagles were fortunate they even got three points after the 53-yard drive because Giants CB Will Allen dropped what should have been an easy INT three plays before Akers' trey. McNabb's pass bounced off WR James Thrash's hands and should have been picked off by Allen.

The Giants knotted things up via Matt Bryant's 26-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Big Blue moved 60 yards in nine plays and was keyed by Amani Toomer's eight-yard catch on third-and-seven.

On the drive, rookie TE Jeremy Shockey giveth and Shockey taketh away. The brash rookie, who made waves during the week by criticizing the Eagles secondary, gained 21 yards on a short catch-and-run, but gave 15 of it back when he was called for taunting.

"I really didn't see it that clearly," Fassel said of the penalty. "The official said something about him throwing the ball. I didn't think it was taunting. I told Jeremy at halftime to watch himself. I said, ‘I know you're excitable and emotional. Just watch yourself.' "

But RB Tiki Barber got it all back and more on a 31-yard run on the next play. It was no surprise, however, as the Giants offense fizzled inside the red zone, and New York had to settle for three.

McNabb killed the Giants with his arm and legs en route to giving Philly a 6-3 lead.

The Philly QB scrambled for 13 yards on third-and-10, then RB Dorsey Levens busted outside for 24 more. McNabb went to the air and hit WR Todd Pinkston for six yards on third-and-five.

McNabb got free for a 14-yard run, then danced around a sack attempt by Michael Strahan and got three yards to convert another third down.

Giants RDE Kenny Holmes finally stopped the madness by dropping McNabb on third down for a four-yard sack, setting Akers up for a 36-yard FG.

When the Giants offense once again failed, Philly tacked on another field goal to extend its halftime lead to 9-3.

The key play that set up Akers' 35-yarder came when McNabb sidestepped a heavy third-down rush and dumped the ball off to Staley, who turned it into a 29-yard gain.

The third quarter was certainly action-packed but there was no scoring as the teams headed to the final period.

Giants kickoff returner Delvin Joyce started the second half with a 33-yard return. But the Giants were forced to punt – or so everyone thought. Matt Allen dropped the snap, but was able to pick it up and gain 13 yards and a first down.

That kept New York's drive alive, as did Eagles S Brian Dawkins' unnecessary roughness penalty for hitting Ike Hilliard late. Hilliard left the game with a dislocated shoulder.

Then came an absolute killer for Big Blue. Of all New York's costly turnovers and red-zone failures this season, none topped Charles Stackhouse's fumble as he was nearing the Eagles goal line. Stackhouse gained 12 yards before being hit by a pair of Birds. Eagles CB Troy Vincent caused him to fumble the ball into the end zone and out of bounds for a Philadelphia touchback.

In the fourth quarter, New York squandered another golden opportunity. Allen's punt was downed at the Eagles one-yard line. However, 99 yards later, the Eagles were in the end zone and New York was headed below .500.

The Birds were able to wriggle out of the shadows of their own end zone. McNabb hit WR Antonio Freeman on third down, before Staley sprinted for 17 yards.

McNabb then hit Thrash for 32 yards. The Eagles receiver was wide open in New York's defensive backfield. McNabb put the final mail in the coffin when he sprinted 40 yards for the game's first and only touchdown, and a 17-3 lead after McNabb hit TE Chad Lewis for the two-point conversion.

"We had a spy on him," Fassel said. "We had a spy linebacker. He was on a spy. The back took off, not his guy, and he chased the back. And he just took off. We had a spy on him. We had a three-man rush with a spy, which he should have been able to play him."

The guilty party was MLB Micheal Barrow, who has certainly had better games.

"They did a screen," Barrow explained. "It was a great play on his part. I was the spy. I played the ball. If we knew he was going to run the ball, we all would have tackled him."

Tackle McNabb? Not on this night.

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