The hands of angry Giants reached for Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb tonight, skimming his arms, brushing his back. But tonight, he was the ghost they could not grab.
McNabb rushed for 111 yards on 7 carries, including a 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that effectively finished the Giants in Philadelphia's 17-3 victory tonight. The loss undercut the Giants' chances of making the playoffs.
The Giants are 3-4, two games behind the Eagles, and their offense has generated only 89 points in 7 games. The Eagles had 299 yards rushing against the Giants, whose run defense was ranked third in the N.F.L. but greatly missed defensive tackle Keith Hamilton.
"We thought we had a chance to change the momentum," Giants cornerback Will Peterson said. "It hurts. We have to get this loss out of our heads real quick."
Philadelphia running back Duce Staley had 126 yards rushing; this was the first time the Eagles had teammates rush for 100 yards since Charlie Garner and Ricky Watters did so on Oct. 8, 1995.
Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey was a sideshow. Shockey, the rookie tight end, had called the Eagles defense "lucky" last week, among other unflattering remarks, and the crowd here jeered him often. Unable to finish practice last week because of turf toe on his left foot, Shockey was energized, engaging the Philadelphia players, as well as the referees: During the course of the game, he was flagged for taunting, holding and pass interference, and made 6 catches for 69 yards.
"He needs to play them a few more times before he starts making comments like that," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said. "I just don't think it was the right time to say what he said." Collins added that he didn't think Shockey's comments had anything to do with the loss.
The only points scored in the first three quarters came on field goals, and the Eagles led, 9-3. The Giants had come within a yard of taking the lead in the third quarter, but Charles Stackhouse fumbled as he closed on the goal line.
"We're all trying to figure out why we're not scoring more points. It's been a plethora of things," Collins said.
Four and a half minutes into the fourth quarter, McNabb dropped back to pass from the Giants' 40-yard line. Kenny Holmes and Michael Strahan pushed toward him, and McNabb stepped forward, leaving Holmes on the ground. McNabb ran left, getting blocks, passing Micheal Barrow, leaving Strahan in his wake. He sprinted into the end zone, ushered in by the blocks of receivers. After a 2-point conversion, the Eagles led by 17-3.
"They kept running the same play," Giants Coach Jim Fassel said. "They were running hard to the right side, cut back, and we just did not shut it down."
Staley ran their way on the second play from scrimmage, barreling for the first 14 of 116 rushing yards Philadelphia amassed in the first quarter. The Eagles held the ball for 10 minutes and 47 seconds of the quarter. Philadelphia had 195 yards rushing in the first half, more than double the average rushing yards allowed by the Giants in their first six games.
And the Giants' offense performed badly. The Giants prepared all week for Philadelphia's blitzes, knowing that linebackers and defensive backs might join the pursuit of quarterback Collins at any time. Collins looked to release the ball quickly, retreating from center with three- and five-step drops and firing.
But the mere threat of pressure seemed to unnerve Collins. He had thrown the ball accurately in the first six games, almost always delivering into the body of the receivers, but tonight, Collins's throws sailed, dipped, bounced.
The Giants ran three plays and punted in their first two drives, failing to get any sort of traction. Philadelphia was running through the defense, the Giants' offense was terrible — and somehow, the Eagles' lead was only 9-3 at the end of the first half. The Giants' secondary had played well, aided greatly by the presence of Peterson, whose condition seemed uncertain earlier in the day due to his bad toe.
And Michael Strahan had battled Philadelphia, again, chasing after McNabb. Strahan tried to defuse talk of his matchup with Jon Runyan, the Eagles' right tackle, talking about how much he enjoyed playing Runyan. Early in the second quarter, Strahan moved around Runyan, who spun and whirled his lower leg into the side of Strahan's leg.
Strahan fell to his knees, before limping to the sidelines. He returned later in the quarter, laboring at times, his right long sleeve torn, hanging from underneath his shoulder pad like a scarf.
Early in the second half, the Giants were set to punt from inside their territory, but as Matt Allen dropped the ball to kick it, he lost control, the ball bouncing at his feet. Allen picked it up and ran with it, making an improbable first down.
The same drive was extended when Eagles safety Brian Dawkins was flagged for a late and frightening hit on Ike Hilliard. Dawkins drove his helmet into Hilliard's torso, separating Hilliard's right shoulder, and both players lay limply on the ground.
The Giants advanced to Philadelphia's 12-yard line and Collins stepped back to pass, with plenty of time to throw, for once. Stackhouse, a rookie fullback, stood near the sidelines, surrounded by open space, and he took Collins's pass and careened toward the pylon in the right corner of the end zone.
As Stackhouse leaned forward, cornerback Troy Vincent hit him, pulling at the ball, and when Blaine Bishop hit Stackhouse as well, the ball popped free, rolling into and out of the end zone. Just a few feet from scoring the touchdown that would give them the lead, the Giants turned over the ball — their third turnover inside the opponents' 20-yard line in their last five quarters.