From Jon Wagner / SNY Columnist
Kicker Lawrence Tynes’ 54-yard field goal attempt was barely short, and so was the New York Giants’ last-minute rally against the Philadelphia Eagles, while wide receiver Ramses Barden was in the center of it all, down the stretch.
Barden (two catches, 36 yards) drew a pair of questionable defensive pass interference calls to keep the game alive for the Giants (2-2) on their final possession, but a costly offense penalty of the same type against Barden later in the same drive, pushed Tynes’ last-ditch attempt just far enough to fall about a yard shy of the crossbar as the Eagles (3-1) held on for a 19-17 home win against their hated NFC East rivals.
Finding ways to win close games is becoming a habit for Philadelphia, which has won all three of its games in the final two minutes, by a combined total of just four points.
A couple of 100-yard receiving efforts by New York wide receivers, with Domenik Hixon catching six passes for 114 yards and Victor Cruz making nine catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, went to waste while the Eagles rushed at will against the Giants’ run defense in the second half.
Led by 123 yards on 23 carries from running back LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia enjoyed a sizable 191-57 advantage on the ground, after being outrushed 26-19 in the opening half, during which McCoy had only two yards on six rushes.
Behind McCoy, the Eagles scored on their last five possessions, with kicker Alex Henery making four straight kicks, after Philadelphia punted on each of its first four dives.
New York’s offense likewise got off to a slow start, punting on each of the first five times its offense touched the ball, before scoring on three of its next four possessions.
The game remained surprisingly scoreless over the first 28 minutes before Eagles finally broke through to take a 7-0 lead with 1:47 left in the opening half on a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Vick (19-for-30, 241 yards, one touchdown, two sacks) to wide receiver DeSean Jackson (team-high six catches, 99 yards, one touchdown), to cap an 11-play, 70-yard drive.
The Giants immediately answered, going 81 yards on ten plays on a drive that began with a great leaping catch up the right side by Hixon, on a pass from quarterback Eli Manning (24-for-42, 309 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), who led New York as far as the Philadelphia six-yard line before the Giants settled for a 25-yard field goal by Tynes, to trim the Eagles’ lead to 7-3 with five seconds left in the half.
Taking the opening kickoff of the second half, Philadelphia marched 78 yards on nine plays, but with a first-and-goal at the New York one-yard line, McCoy, who had consecutive runs of 34 and 22 yards earlier on the same drive, was stopped on three successive rushes as the Eagles were held to a 20-yard field goal by Henery to lead 10-3 with 9:55 left in the third quarter.
Continuing the sharp departure from what took place for most of the first half, the Giants once again, came right back with an eight-play, 57-yard drive after a 45-yard kickoff return by rookie running back David Wilson.
Manning finished that possession with a 14-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Cruz, to tie the game 10-10, with 5:28 remaining in the period.
Wilson would return his next kickoff for 53 yards to give New York great field position on its next possession, but four plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Manning was intercepted by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the end zone, looking for tight end Martellus Bennett (one catch, two yards).
Philadelphia meanwhile, went on two more field goal drives on each side of that Giants’ trip, going eight plays on 50 yards and then 74 yards on eleven plays, to lead 16-10, with 9:25 left in the game.
Very quickly striking back however, New York needed just five plays to move 83 yards in only 2:40, as Manning went deep up the right side for consecutive completions, first for 31 yards to Barden, and then for 41 yards to Hixon. Those connections set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Bear Pascoe (his only catch) to give the Giants’ their only lead, 17-16, with 6:45 remaining.
Once again though, New York’s defense could not make a second half stop, as the Eagles drove 75 yards on a dozen plays for a 26-yard field goal by Henery that gave Philadelphia the lead for good, 19-17, with 1:49 to go.
That left things up to Manning, the usual master of the late-game comeback, seeking to direct a game-winning victory in the fourth quarter or overtime for the 22nd time in his nine-year career, but after seemingly getting a couple of fortunate breaks in their first game of the season played with the NFL’s regular officials, the Giants were shortly thereafter pushed just passed the limit of Tynes’ makeable field goal range.
Despite having Barden first push off of his facemask with no flag thrown, Rodgers-Cromartie, on the same play, was called for a 21-yard pass interference penalty to the Eagles’ 35-yard line, up the right side.
Two Manning incompletions later, star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was whistled for some borderline illegal contact against Barden on third-and-ten, to give New York a first down well within Tynes’ range, at the Philadelphia 27-yard line.
But, two plays after that, the ball was moved back to the Eagles’ 36-yard line, when Barden was flagged for a 10-yard pass interference penalty after mauling the head of Asomugha as the two leaped for a Manning pass up the right side, a few strides short of the right pylon.
Looking deep along the right side, Manning threw incomplete to Hixon on the next play, and with no time outs left, head coach Tom Coughlin didn’t want to risk running another play on third-and-19, and instead sent Tynes out for a potential game-winning kick with 15 seconds left.
“I couldn’t afford to take a chance on the clock running out before we could spike the ball,” said Coughlin.
Tynes, who had made his first ten field goal attempts of the season after making all eight of his field goal tries in the preseason, pulled a 54-yard kick wide left, but Philadelphia coach Andy Reid was first granted a time out, even though it appeared that Reid called for the time out after the ball was snapped.
That almost backed fired for the Eagles as Tynes’ second attempt was a lot more accurate, but didn’t quite have enough distance to win the game for New York.
A kneel-down by Vick ran out the clock and put Philadelphia into sole possession of first place in the NFC East, pending the outcome of the Monday night game between second-place Dallas (2-1) and Chicago.
Finishing a tough first quarter of its season that included three nationally televised games and the alternating of short and long weeks over its first four games, the Giants (an automatic ratings drawing card as defending Super Bowl champions hailing from the league’s biggest market) will likely be happy to host Cleveland (0-4) next week, to begin a season-concluding 12-game stretch during which New York will play exclusively on Sunday afternoons, except for consecutive games on a Sunday night and Monday night, following a Thanksgiving week bye.