- Ian O'Connor, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On a never-ending night of indignities for the home team, a night when the Philadelphia Eagles finally humiliated someone other than themselves, this was the hardest hit for the losers to take:
And in this corner of the NFL, there's no greater insult than that.
Tom Coughlin's Giants were supposed to be the antithesis of everything Rex Ryan created this year on the more lawless side of town. They were supposed to be poised, consistent and eager to let their blocking and tackling speak louder than their words.
But for the first time Sunday night, the Giants were pushing the same brand of counterfeit goods the Jets have been selling for weeks. Coughlin's players were soft and undisciplined and, ultimately, unworthy of all the kind things people have been saying about them.
"Pathetic," Coughlin called the Giants' grand sum of 29 rushing yards in the 17-10 defeat.
"That's as big a disappointment as we've had around here in a long time."
Coughlin had good cause to be as angry as he's ever been after a regular-season defeat. Over the decades the Giants' identity has been one of physicality, of deciding the game between the tackles and manhandling opponents 3 yards at a time.
Yet the 3-6 Eagles walked into MetLife Stadium and dumped buckets of Gatorade all over that ethos. A week after leaving their hearts in San Francisco, after pledging to show a renewed urgency and fire against Philly, the Giants were embarrassed by a team that specialized in finding exciting new ways to lose games in the fourth quarter.
Vince Young, the backup who attached the "Dream Team" label to these wannabe Eagles, survived his three interceptions and threw two scoring passes to Eli Manning's one. DeSean Jackson, whose punt return last year punctuated the mother of all Meadowlands collapses, took one back 51 yards to set up the touchdown pass caught by -- who else? -- Steve Smith, who hadn't done a damn thing for his new team until he decided on Sunday night to haunt his old one.
But none of those developments was as alarming as the felonious beating the Giants took at the line of scrimmage. Under heavy pressure, Manning could rarely set his feet in the pocket. The Eagles sacked him three times, separated him from the ball with the game on the line, and even had two pass-rushers blast Manning to the ground after he threw a first-quarter pick.
"You would think your team would rally around that," Coughlin said of the assault on his franchise player, "but we didn't do that."
But then again, the losing coach pointed out, "We didn't do anything."
Other than inspire a crisis of NFC East faith.
What was it that Antrel Rolle said not too long ago? To paraphrase: The Giants shouldn't be worrying about the schedule; the schedule should be worrying about the Giants.
That was then, this is now. At 6-4, the Giants should look at the upcoming Saints and Packers and be very, very afraid.
"Everyone needs to look at themselves in the mirror, myself included," said Mark Herzlich, the cancer survivor and first-time starter who represented the Giants' only feel-good angle of the night. "That's the only way we're going to get better."
But with so much at stake, including a chance to kill off the very team that has tormented them on Coughlin's watch, how could the Giants come out so flat and come up so small?
In the locker room, Coughlin faced his vanquished players and asked them the following: "Why? What does it take to understand what the Eagles were going to be like coming here? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the team is 3-6 with their backs to the wall, and they're going to play their butts off."
As much as the Giants should have delighted in effectively ending a blood rival's season, in stamping Philly as the Dream-On Team in front of a national TV audience, the Eagles were the ones who played angry.
Cullen Jenkins, all 305 pounds of him, launched himself headfirst into D.J. Ware's helmet and knocked him out of the game with a concussion. The Eagles also went out of their way to hit Manning hard, unnecessarily hard, after he delivered his interception.
"They always play physical football when we play them," Manning said. "I know what D-linemen are taught after an interception -- go find the quarterback."
The Eagles found the quarterback again on the Giants' final, frantic drive, when Kareem McKenzie couldn't hold off Jason Babin, who couldn't resist leveling Manning as Eli rolled to his right, oblivious to the pass-rusher in his midst.
"We didn't protect the ball, and the ball comes out," said Coughlin, making sure to throw a verbal jab at Manning between the haymakers he was firing at the linemen who failed to protect him.
"We didn't have our best effort out there," said Manning, whose quarterback rating is plunging with the fortunes of his team. "I don't know why."
Jake Ballard couldn't catch the ball, Brandon Jacobs couldn't run the ball, and Deon Grant couldn't keep up with Smith or Riley Cooper on Philly's two scores. The Giants learned that as backups go, Vince Young is no Curtis Painter, and the Eagles are not your average sub-.500 team.
"I didn't like the way we played," Coughlin said.
Nor did anyone who paid to watch them. In the context of credible contenders, the Giants looked a little fraudulent and a lot vulnerable.
More than anything, they looked like the 5-5 Jets. On the Giants' worst night of 2011, that was the biggest indictment of all.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday, 9-11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.
The Giants looked exactly like the Jets. Around here, there's no greater insult.