The beasts of the NFC East
Sunday night at the Meadowlands, the Philadelphia Eagles (8-4) and New York Giants (7-5) will meet for the 23rd time this decade and 20th and final time during the regular season. To say that this showdown is important would be to understate one of the NFL’s best and most ferocious rivalries.
To put this matchup in perspective, one needs to look no further than the success both franchises have had over the past decade.
New York and Philadelphia have combined to win eight of the last nine NFC East crowns (the Cowboys won the East in 2007), earn 13 playoff berths, play in seven of the last nine NFC Championship games, win three NFC titles and one Super Bowl.
The best part? Their rivalry couldn’t be more balanced.
Philadelphia has won 10 of this decade’s 19 regular-season games with the Giants. Of those 19, nine have been decided by six points or less. The Birds also hold a 2-1 edge in playoff meetings, with the most recent being a 23-11 win at the Meadowlands in January’s NFC divisional showdown.
But the icing on the cake when it comes to Philadelphia vs. New York is when the game takes place in December.
In six December meetings since 2000, four have been decided by three points or less, while five battles have been decided by fewer than six points. The closest thing these teams have had to a lopsided affair in December took place in 2006, when the Birds beat the G-Men 36-22.
Sunday night’s game at the Meadowlands will be no different, as both teams are fighting for their right to represent the NFC East in the playoffs.
But before we get to another chapter in Eagles-Giants lore, let’s take a look at five of the best and most significant matchups these two teams have played over the past decade.
5. Big Blue’s march to the Super Bowl
Week 14: Dec. 9, 2007 Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Giants 16 Eagles 13
A rock-solid defense led the Giants, who had won eight of their previous 10 games, into Philadelphia on a bitter December afternoon with dreams of the postseason. But a 5-7 Eagles team that was all but eliminated from the playoff race had no plans to roll out the red carpet for their hated division rivals.
The Giants were on their way to a fourth-quarter score that would have put the game out of reach when running back Brandon Jacobs fumbled the ball -- his second of the half -- breathing life into the Philly faithful. After grabbing an early 7-0 lead, Philadelphia found itself with the ball on its own 10-yard line trailing 16-13 with 5:51 left to play.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb led the Eagles down the field just far enough to set up kicker David Akers for a 57-yard attempt to tie the game with no time remaining.
The kick had the distance, but it hit the right goal post with one second left to give the Giants a hard-fought 16-13 win and move them one step closer to an eventual Super Bowl championship.
Giants killer Brian Westbrook finished the game with 154 total yards and one touchdown, while Eagles killer Plaxico Burress ended his day with seven receptions for 136 yards and one score.
Said Giants defensive end Michael Strahan after watching Akers’ 57-yard attempt from the sideline: “I was holding my breath, man. I’m glad the goal post was right where it was -- not an inch left or right.”
4. The Rebirth of Jeff Garcia
NFC wild-card round: Jan. 7, 2007 Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Eagles 23 Giants 20
McNabb was lost for the season with a knee injury in Week 11 that, for many Philadelphia fans, put an end to any hopes of making another run at a Super Bowl title. Enter backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, who stepped in admirably running head coach Andy Reid’s West Coast offense and led the Eagles to five consecutive wins entering this wild-card matchup with the G-Men.
Burress did what he did best and torched the Eagles for 89 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Tiki Barber rushed for 137 yards on 26 carries.
Led by quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants tied the game late in the fourth quarter as Manning overcame a second-and-30 by connecting with Burress on three straight passes of 18, 14 and 11 yards. With 5:04 remaining in the game, Manning found Burress for an 11-yard touchdown that tied the game 20-20.
But Garcia engineered yet another late drive that was capped off with Akers’ game-winning 38-yard field goal in a steady rain. It was the sixth-consecutive win for the Eagles under Garcia.
Said Barber after the game: “This was one of the hardest places I’ve ever played in. It was fitting to come down here and play my last game.”
3. The Punt Return
Week 7: Oct. 19, 2003 Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Eagles 14 Giants 10
The Giants and Eagles may have entered this matchup with the same record, but by the end of the game both teams would be headed down very different paths.Entering the 2003 season, second-year running back Brian Westbrook was an unknown third-round pick out of Villanova. The future Pro Bowler had carried the ball just 46 times for 193 yards and no touchdowns in his rookie campaign, so he wasn’t exactly the focal point of opposing teams’ game plans.
The Eagles entered Week 7 at 2-3, a disappointment to the fans who had watched their team make it as far as the NFC Championship game the year before (Philly lost to Tampa Bay 27-10 in that game). Meanwhile, the Giants were having problems of their own as they came into this divisional showdown at 2-3 as well.
Led by Strahan, a Pro Bowl defensive end, the Giants’ defense stifled the Philadelphia offense, holding McNabb and company to just 134 total yards for the game and only one first down in the second half.
Leading 10-7 with 1:34 left to play, the Giants lined up to punt the ball with the idea that the defense would hold McNabb and the Eagles – as they had done all afternoon -- and Big Blue would escape with a hard-fought win.
It all went south shortly thereafter.
Westbrook fielded the punt at his own 16-yard line, and aided by a questionable Ike Reese block on gunner David Tyree, raced down the sideline for an 84-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles a 14-10 lead and ultimately the win.
The Eagles went on to win nine games in a row and finished the season 12-4, earning another trip to the NFC Championship game.
The Giants, conversely, dropped eight of their last 10 to finish 4-12.
Said Westbrook after the game: “I had a feeling I was going to get a return.”
2. The Comeback
Week 2: Sept. 17, 2006 Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Giants 30 Eagles 24 (overtime)
Big Blue opened up its 2006 campaign with a 26-12 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the first ever “Manning Bowl.” Meanwhile, Philadelphia handled its Week 1 business by disposing of the Houston Texans 24-10. This game would mark just the sixth time since 1990 that these two teams would meet in the regular season before the month of October.
The Giants struck first as Eli Manning hooked up with wide receiver Amani Toomer for a 37-yard touchdown pass that put New York up 7-0 just 2:36 into the game.
After that, it appeared as if the Eagles could not be stopped.
McNabb connected with wide receiver Reggie Brown for a 23-yard touchdown strike with 11:42 to go in the third quarter that put the Birds up 24-7. For everyone who had been watching this showdown, the game looked to be quickly getting out of hand.
But Eli and the Giants weren’t f inished.
Down 24-7 entering the fourth quarter, Manning went hot as the young quarterback led three scoring drives over the final 15 minutes, capped off by Jay Feely's 35-yard field goal with just 15 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.
A silenced Philadelphia crowd could only look on in horror as Manning found Burress for a 31-yard touchdown pass in overtime to give the Giants a thrilling 30-24 comeback win.
The comeback marked just the third time in 21 seasons that the Giants had rallied from a 17-point deficit.
After the game, Strahan said, “We’re on the road, we’re down 17 going into the fourth quarter in Philadelphia, the fans are cursing at us, screaming at us, yelling obscenities at us, mooning us on the way in. To win in this hostile territory and have it end on such a good play…priceless.”
1. The Changing of the Guard
Week 6: Oct. 22, 2001 Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Eagles 10 Giants 9 (Monday night)
Arguably the most significant meeting of the decade for these two teams, it wasn’t so much what happened during this October showdown that mattered as what the fallout brought with it.
The Giants came into the 2001 season as the defending NFC champions, having destroyed the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 the previous January. While the G-Men ended up losing the Super Bowl that year to the Baltimore Ravens, they were still the cream of the crop in the NFC East.
On the other sideline stood the Philadelphia Eagles, who had lost to the Giants 20-10 in the divisional round of the playoffs the previous January. It had been the first trip to the postseason for the Eagles since 1996, which was considered a very successful season for a team that had gone 14-43 from 1997-1999.
Philly traveled to New York at 2-2 to meet the 3-2 Giants. The big storyline in this game was the fact the G-Men had won eight straight regular-season meetings over the Eagles. In what had been one of the more lopsided rivalries of the past four years, you could sense something was different on this cool October evening.
In a game that saw the Giants get out to a 9-0 halftime lead, young quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Eagles would not be deterred. This game was a defensive war -- the trademark of so many great Philly-New York showdowns -- that saw just one touchdown scored the entire evening.
That TD took place in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles trailing 9-3, when McNabb hit wide receiver James Thrash for an 18-yard touchdown strike with 1:52 left in the game, giving Philadelphia a 10-9 lead it would not relinquish.
The Eagles won nine of their final 12 games to go 11-5 and made it as far as the NFC Championship game, where they lost to Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams 29-24.
New York dropped seven of its final 11 contests to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs.
After losing eight straight games to the Giants, Philly’s 10-9 win began a run in which the Birds would appear in four consecutive NFC Championship games.
They also went on to beat the Giants in six of their next seven regular-season meetings.
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