Each week we'll take a look at the decisive play that proved to be the difference between winning and losing.
As Sunday night's game unfolded we scribbled down several candidates for this week's "Turning Point." There was the Eagles' first drive of the second half that reached the Giants 1-yard line and Philly had to settle for a field goal. Then, on the first drive of the fourth quarter, there was the sack quarterback Michael Vick took on 3rd and 2 from the Giants 2-yard line that led to another field goal. A possible 14 points turned into six, and that easily could've been the difference between 2-2 and 3-1 (and 1-0 in the division).
But we settled on the last play of the third quarter, when Eli Manning converted a 4th and 1 from the Eagles' 40 into a 30-yard gain. At the time, the Eagles had a tenuous hold on the lead, 13-10, but Manning's march to the end zone seemed inevitable because, well, that's what he does.
Except a play later, inexplicably, Manning threw one of the worst interceptions you'll ever see -- right to cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the Eagles end zone.
The Eagles marched down the field behind a revitalized running game (imagine that!) and settled for another field goal. But the difference between trailing 17-16 and being up 16-10 early in the final quarter was critical. Because in typical Manning fashion, he led New York on a five-play touchdown drive to give the Giants a one-point lead. The Eagles responded with another field goal, this time on a 12-play, 75-yard drive that left just 1:49 on the clock.
As always seems to happen, the game came down to a final, fateful play, this time a 54-yard field goal attempt by the Giants' Lawrence Tynes. For reasons that still remain a mystery, coach Andy Reid called time out milliseconds before Tynes attempted the near impossible. Predictably, Tynes missed but it didn't matter. Reid got his timeout, Tynes got a do-over. On the second try, the kick was right down the middle … but came up three feet short. Eagles win, 19-17.
After-wards, Reid was asked if he wished he could take back the timeout to try to ice Tynes.
“When you’re surrounded by 66,000 people that want to probably rip your throat out at that time, yes I did," he said. "That’s about 20-fold what Custer felt.”
Want more proof that the Eagles should be running the ball more often, not just to mitigate Vick turnovers but because, you know, they have some really good backs on the roster? Consider this: Philly gained 191 yards on the ground. LeSean McCoy was good for 123 of those yards (23 carries, 5.3 YPC), and Vick added another 49. And fullback Stanley Havili had two critical runs that totaled 15 yards.
"We thought the run was working," Reid said about sticking with the ground game in the second half. "We started off with a couple of big ones. We came out in the first drive of the second half and we really put together a nice drive. Within that, we had a couple of big runs that worked. We need to punch it in [the end zone] and not make this game quite so close, but we’ll work on that too. The runs were good.”
Maybe even more impressive: for the first time all season Vick didn't turn the ball over (19 of 30 for 241 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT). And while he took his fair share of hits, he was only sacked twice. It wasn't perfect but it was progress, which is exactly what you'd want to see from your franchise quarterback a week after the "We might want to consider benching him" became media-fueled talking points.
“He’s been knocking the rust off from not playing," Reid said of Vick. "This game is so stinking fast that if you have no snaps in the preseason and you’re asked to come out and play at a high level against the football teams we’re playing against, particularly against the defenses we’re playing against, it’s tough. It’s tough for anybody. As great of a player as he is, it’s tough. He found himself tonight, and he did a nice job with it.”
So what about that third-down play in the fourth quarter near the Giants' goal line that ended up with Vick taking a four-yard loss and the Eagles having to settle for another field goal?
“He was going to read that side with Jason (Avant), and then the over route there with the receiver," Reid explained. "If he had an opportunity to run it in, go ahead and run it in. If not, just get down, and we’ll kick a field goal and do what we have to do there. You obviously don’t want any turnovers there, and you don’t need to force anything.”
From our vantage point on the couch, we thought it was a brilliant decision, as far as four-yard losses go. Vick didn't force it, realized the Giants had the play well-defended, and instead of winging the ball into the end zone on a hope and a prayer, he took his medicine and settled for three point. In the end, that may have proved to be the difference.