This was an Eagles win that left us all miserable — a road victory that clinched a playoff bye but foreshadowed doom. Never before did beating Eli Manning seem so empty.
Yes, the good guys defeated the Giants, 34-29 Sunday. They climbed to 12-2 and are now one victory from guaranteeing all home games until the Super Bowl.
“We found a way to win,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said afterward. “That’s really all that matters.”
Not really. Most Eagles fans woke Sunday fretting how Nick Foles would step in for injured MVP Carson Wentz. As it turned out, Foles was fine, throwing four touchdown passes.
Instead, it was the defense that had us chewing our fingernails to the nub. Cox and his mates allowed 504 yards to the NFL’s 29th-ranked offense. They sacked Manning just once in 54 attempts. Eli passed for 434 yards — the second-highest total ever against the Eagles in 85 seasons.
The Giants cruised 75 yards for a TD on their first series. Then they did it again. And again. “What has happened to the Eagles defense?” Merrill Reese pleaded on the radio. “They’re asleep!”
And they wouldn’t wake. Manning torched the Eagles when they blitzed early. He continued to torch them when they laid back.
Indeed, with less than four minutes to go in a five-point game, the Giants marched 74 yards to the Eagles six, before tackle Bobby Hart killed his own team’s drive by jumping pre-snap. It was raucous noise made by visiting Eagles fans that rattled the Giants lineman. Give those fans a game ball.
The confounding thing is the Giants succeeded with a predictable, one-dimensional offense Sunday. Time and again, Manning completed 10-yard pick plays where Eagles cornerbacks got lost in the wash. It was death by 1,000 slant patterns.
Corners Jaylen Mills and Ronald Darby incurred four penalties. Tackling was sloppy at all levels. Manning barely felt pressure from one of the NFL’s most-lauded pass rushes.
One poor game can be an aberration, but this is now three in a row. Perhaps there’s no shame in getting picked apart by Russell Wilson, or giving up points to a skilled, fast Rams offense. But the Giants? They were a carcass of an offense heading into yesterday. Now, the Eagles defensive slump has become a trend.
And so it begs the question: Is this the porous secondary we all feared when the season started? Or, is this still one of the NFL’s top five defenses — as it showed through November — merely encountering turbulence in this long, glorious flight of a season?
I don’t know. You don’t know. We can only hope that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz does and can stabilize everything over the next two weeks against Oakland and Dallas. While we all respect Eli Manning’s career, the quarterbacks the Eagles might face in the playoffs are named Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, along with another potential look at Wilson or Jared Goff.
Wentz’s brilliance helped the Eagles cover for occasional lapses. No matter how many points the opponent scored, he was always one touchdown better.
Foles, capable as he was Sunday, is not in that stratosphere. He can’t carry this defense. Now it has to carry itself.