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Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles caught the defending world champs in a benevolent mood Sunday. But the New York Giants had to draw the line somewhere.
After spotting the Eagles a 7-0 lead via an early turnover and then letting them climb back into the game following a Brandon Jacobs fumble, the Giants finally shut the door with a 36-31 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
|Drew Hallowell/Getty Images|
|Eli Manning threw an early interception but settled down Sunday to lead the Giants to a 36-31 win over Philadelphia.|
If there's such a thing as a dominating narrow win, that's what we witnessed Sunday. The Giants outgained the Eagles 244 to 126 in the first half, but Jacobs' fumble breathed life into a team that was poised to fold. There's no good explanation for why one of the most punishing runners in the league feels the need to punctuate runs by leaping into the air, and Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong drove that point home by separating Jacobs from the ball.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb suddenly hit a couple of moving targets and the Eagles were back in the game. In fact, that's the only downside for the Giants. On a night when they racked up 401 yards of total offense and turned All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook into a non-factor, New York had trouble closing the deal.
On this night, even the most ardent McNabb apologists were sent scrambling for higher ground. He was 17 of 36 for 194 yards and three touchdowns, but don't let that last number fool you. His interception in the second quarter was as bad as you'll see in the NFL, a league that Brad Johnson and J.T. O'Sullivan still call home. McNabb rallied his team late, but it only served to highlight how poorly he'd played the rest of the game.
At this point, McNabb is the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC East. With all of his experience, he'll still take a delay of game in the red zone or botch a handoff at crucial moments. As usual, Eagles coach Andy Reid stood by his man, saying McNabb simply has to "keep firing, and he'll be fine." In the other locker room, the Giants were talking about how amusing it was that they were the underdogs in this game. After spending 10 minutes on a half-Windsor knot, wide receiver Plaxico Burress turned around to explain.
"We were the underdogs tonight for some strange reason," Burress said, shaking his head in disbelief. "We're 3-0 (in the NFC East), they're 0-3. We're the defending world champs, but we're the underdogs."
Burress only had one catch, but it went for a 17-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7-7 in the first quarter. Last week against the Cowboys, Burress read a route differently than quarterback Eli Manning, and the Cowboys returned an interception for a touchdown.
On Sunday, Burress caught Manning's eye to let him know a cornerback blitz was coming. Burress drew one-on-one coverage from safety Brian Dawkins on a quick slant and scored easily.
"I almost ran a fade," Burress said. "I almost got caught in between, but I decided to stick with the play that had been called."
On Saturday night, Coughlin stood before his team and delivered one of his patented motivational messages. According to two starters who asked not to be identified, Coughlin's exact wording was, "We are the big dogs."
He wanted to drive home the point that the Giants were in control of their destiny and any team wanting to make a playoff run in the second half will have to go through them.
"He wanted to remind us that we could go 3-0 in the division," said one of the players. "And that they would be 0-3."
In the wake of Sunday's "narrow" win, it looks like the message definitely got through.
And now let's discuss the biggest play of the game: The Giants were trailing, 24-20, midway through the third quarter when Eli Manning appeared to cross the line of scrimmage before delivering a 17-yard pass to Kevin Boss.
Officials initially called an illegal forward pass, but the call was overturned after a successful challenge from Coughlin. The coach credited assistants Mike Sullivan and Chris Palmer for being his eyes in the sky -- with an assist to Manning.
"I know that the rule is that your body is on the line or before it, that it is a good play," Manning said. "I knew that it was worth the risk to challenge it and talked with the coaches about it. I knew that you really have to be past the line by a lot for it not to count. I know that I really wanted to get the touchdown instead of a field goal and the risk was worth it."