EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There is a race in the NFC East again and the undermanned Philadelphia Eagles find themselves on the fringe of it.
Subbing for an injured Michael Vick, Vince Young breathed life into the defending division champions by capping an 18-play drive with a game-winning 8-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper with 2:45 to play and the Eagles defeated the New York Giants 17-10 Sunday night.
“It’s definitely a big win,” said Young, who was 23 of 36 for 258 yards, two touchdown and three interceptions. “You see the excitement and the smiles on the guys and that’s what we need, what we have to have.”
This was one the Eagles (4-6) had to have to stay alive. It snapped a two-game losing streak and sent the Giants (6-4) to their second straight loss.
Two weeks ago, New York had a two-game lead in the division. Now it is tied with Dallas, which beat Washington in overtime. The teams will play twice over the final six weeks. The Cowboys also have a game with Philadelphia, the so-called Dream Team that finally got things right in the fourth quarter after losing five games in the quarter earlier this season.
“There’s a big difference between 3-7 and 4-6,” said LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 113 yards, including 60 on a late game-clinching run. “I can’t even believe the idea that this team could have been 3-7. It was definitely do-or-die and we needed to get this win, especially if we wanted to keep our hopes alive. It was definitely a big game. Some of the frustrations we’ve had early on served as motivation for this one. We definitely had to win.”
Beating the Giants at the Meadowlands is becoming a habit, especially with a late rally.
Last year, the Eagles destroyed the Giants’ season with a 28-point onslaught in the final seven minutes, capping it when DeSean Jackson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown on the game’s final play.
This time, Andy Reid’s team used a slow and excruciating method to hurt the Giants once again.
It wasn’t Vick and Jackson, although Jackson played a big part in putting up the first 10 points in his return to the lineup after being benched last week for missing a team meeting.
The culprits were Young, a quarterback whose only pass this season had been intercepted, and Cooper, a receiver who did not have a catch all season.
On the Eagles’ winning march, Young converted four third-down passes and ran for another first down on third down. The longest play was an 18-yard Young to Cooper hookup on third and 10 from the Eagles 33.
“We knew we had to dig deep,” said Cooper who had his first five catches of the season for 75 yards. “Everybody contributed. It was not just one player, not just one long play. We pieced that last drive together piece by piece.”
Jackson finished with six catches for 88 yards and set up a touchdown pass to former Giants receiver Steve Smith with a 51-yard punt return.
“Vince, stepping in for the great Michael Vick, that’s a tough thing to do and he did it and the guys rallied around him,” Reid said. “The offensive line and defensive line played well, the offensive line had a huge challenge when it counted and they were able to put some things together.”
The Eagles, of course, made Reid sweat out the final minutes.
Eli Manning, who tied it with a 24-yard TD pass to Victor Cruz earlier in the quarter, drove the Giants from their own 10 to the Eagles 21 with the final 47 yards coming on a catch-and-run by Cruz with 1:25 to play.
However, Manning stepped out of the pocket on the next play and was hit from behind by Jason Babin and fumbled. Derek Landi recovered at the 26, sending the Giants to their second straight tough loss, coming on the heels of a 7-point loss to San Francisco, a game that ended with New York at the Niners 2.
“This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
The Eagles led 10-3 at the half and blew a chance to extend the lead in the third quarter when Aaron Ross intercepted Young in the end zone on a second-and-9 from the New York 16.
New York eventually tied it early in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard TD pass from Manning to Cruz. It was set up two plays earlier when Manning rolled out of the pocket and found Hakeem Nicks for a 47-yard gain on third down to the Eagles 24.
Manning was 18 of 35 for 264 yards, and Cruz had six catches for 128 yards. The Giants’ running game failed to get going, rushing for just 29 yards.
“We can’t always afford to be in those positions,” Manning said of the recent late rallies. “I think we still feel confident when we get in there that we’re going to move the ball and we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win. It is just a matter of you don’t always want to be in that position.”
The first half was typical of an Eagles-Giants meeting: chippy, intense, hard-fought and ugly.
Jackson set up both of the Eagles’ scores in the first half. He caught a 32-yard pass early in the second quarter to set up a 33-yard field goal by Alex Henery and then brought back excruciating memories from last season with a 51-yard punt return that was a carbon copy of his winning 65-yard punt return on the final play of the Eagles’ 38-31 win.
What made the return so eerie was that Jackson fielded Steve Weatherford’s punt at his own 35, circled right and then ran down the sideline in front of the Giants’ bench — the same thing he did last season. The only difference was Weatherford pushed him out of bounds at the 14. Matt Dodge was the Giants’ punter last season.
It didn’t matter. One play later, Young found former Giants receiver Steve Smith cutting under the zone and he easily outran linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka into the end zone with 1:22 left in the half.
It was enough time for Manning to get the Giants on the board. A 21-yard pass to Cruz on the first play got the ball the 41 and a late 10-catch by running back D.J. Ware on a play in which he suffered a concussion set up Lawrence Tynes’ 48-yard field goal.
Notes: The game was Coughlin’s 250th regular-season game, making him the 19th head coach in NFL history to reach the mark. He is 139-111, including 71-51 with the Giants. … Reid said the Eagles had no major injuries. … Giants rookie LB Mark Herzlich started his first game and the cancer survivor had four tackles. … The Eagles sacked Manning three times. The Giants only got Young once. … Giants Pro Bowl G Chris Snee played sick and said he threw up several times during the game. … Philadelphia was 9 of 17 on third down.