You have to love when division rivals get to meet again in the playoffs. And you definitely have to love it when it's teams that have the kind of rivalry that these two have. The Eagles are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, and the Giants still are trying to regain their footing after a series of injuries and poor play. Quarterback Jeff Garcia must maintain his coolness and efficiency to sustain this remarkable run he's on. He has done a great job making things happen on broken plays when he's on the run. While he's not quite in Donovan McNabb's league in terms of throwing the ball downfield, the Eagles' staff has done a wonderful job of catering to his strengths. I'd still like to see better field vision out of him because he's prone to leave plays on the field by missing open receivers. As for the Giants, they have to rely on another big day from Tiki Barber to have any shot. It's obvious that Eli Manning is simply too young and inexperienced to give them what they need at this point in his career. -- Joe Theismann
PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 3, 2007) -- Less than two months ago, it seemed the Philadelphia Eagles' playoff hopes were lost and the New York Giants were a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Now, Philadelphia is possibly the league's hottest team entering the postseason and New York hardly deserves to be a part of it.
Jeff Garcia and the Eagles look to continue their surprising ride by sending Tiki Barber into retirement and possibly ending Tom Coughlin's tenure as Giants coach in an NFC wild-card matchup on Sunday.
A funk that lasted into late November saw Philadelphia drop five of six to fall below .500, but more importantly, the team lost star quarterback Donovan McNabb to a season-ending knee injury. Garcia, though, went on to lead the Eagles to four consecutive victories -- he barely played in Week 17 while Philadelphia won a fifth straight -- and a 10-6 record to win the NFC East.
"We've worked hard over this past month to scratch and claw our way back," said Garcia, whose 95.8 passer rating this season topped McNabb's and would rank fourth in the NFL if he had enough attempts.
"It's very special to be among a group of guys like we have here that just continue to battle, continue to prepare, continue to focus week in and week out."
The Giants seemed to lose that focus in the second half of the season en route to an 8-8 finish, and many feel it could cost Coughlin his job, especially with a loss Sunday.
"I've not even thought one thought about that," Coughlin said. "I'm focused on trying to find a way for us to win and that's where I'll continue to focus."
New York was 6-2 in early November before losing six of seven, but pulled out a 34-28 win at last-place Washington last week to qualify for the playoffs.
The Giants are trying to join the 1999 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to win a playoff game after going 2-6 or worse in their final eight games of the season. New York has been outscored by a 107-26 margin in the fourth quarter during that span.
"We've already jumped over the hurdle about being here and I think that is the important thing," Coughlin said about backing in to the postseason. "Underdogs. Whatever. We'll draw strength from anything we can."
The Giants certainly have drawn strength from Barber, whose outstanding Week 17 performance lifted the team into the playoffs and kept his career going. While quarterback Eli Manning again struggled and the defense looked shaky, New York got a team-record 234 rushing yards and three touchdowns from the soon-to-be-retired Barber.
The franchise's career rushing leader, Barber ran for 1,662 yards this season to rank fourth in the NFL. New York was 6-2 when he rushed for 100 yards, and 2-6 when he didn't.
"My football career hopefully has four more games in it," Barber said.
However, he was mostly ineffective in two matchups with the Eagles this season.
Barber ran for 75 yards on 19 carries in Week 15, but the Eagles' 161 rushing yards nearly doubled New York's output and Garcia outplayed Manning as Philadelphia won 36-22. Barber was held to a season-low 51 yards on 21 attempts at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 17, but Manning helped the Giants rally from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter and win 30-24 in overtime.
"It's going to be a trash-talking game on the field," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "It is going to be a game where two teams that respect each other, but probably don't like each other a lot, are going to touch the field. It's going to be a war."
Jeff Garcia and the Eagles are entering the playoffs with huge momentum.
Philadelphia's version of Barber, Brian Westbrook, has been given the ball more since offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg took over the playcalling from coach Andy Reid two months ago.
Westbrook averaged more than 20 carries and 100 yards rushing in seven games following the change before sitting out most of the regular season finale. He did not have 20 carries in any of his first seven games while averaging about 30 fewer rushing yards per contest.
His effectiveness has taken some pressure off Garcia. He's completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and thrown only two interceptions since becoming the starter, getting sacked only six times in six games as his scrambling ability has fit well into Mornhinweg's scheme.
"He had some big shoes to fill," Reid said of Garcia. "And so he came in and handled that like a seasoned veteran, but he is also a very good football player and a Pro Bowl caliber football player.
"He knows that he is in a position where he has to lead. And he is taking that to heart."
In three career playoff games -- all with San Francisco -- Garcia got his only win in a 2003 wild-card matchup with the Giants as he led the 49ers back from a 24-point deficit over the final 18 minutes in a 39-38 victory.
New York has won its only two playoff meetings with Philadelphia, in 1981 and 2001. While the Eagles will next head to New Orleans if they win, New York would visit top seed Chicago.
First, Manning tries to lead the Giants to their first postseason victory since reaching the Super Bowl six years ago. The former No. 1 overall pick likely must get his game on track for New York to go on a playoff run because the Eagles defense surely will focus on stopping the run.
The third-year pro had a mostly dreadful second half with a 66.5 passer rating, compared to 87.5 during New York's 6-2 start. Manning completed only 21 of 51 passes (41.2 percent) over the last two.
"It's not on Eli, it's not just on Tiki," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "It's on us as a team. That's the mentality we have to have."
New York faces an Eagles defense that seems to have stabilized, allowing an average of 17.8 points during the five-game win streak while forcing 12 turnovers.
Manning's job could be made a bit easier if Jeremy Shockey returns to the lineup. The Pro Bowl tight end sat out last week due to a swollen left ankle, but there is a good chance he will play Sunday.
"It's really not about them. It's about us," Shockey said. "Us playing well together and giving ourselves a chance to win. That's what we're going to do this week."
AP NEWS The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2007, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved
Date: January 7, 2007 Kickoff: 4:30 PM (EST) Site: Lincoln Financial Field (65,352) Surface: Natural grass
TV FOX-TV (WNYW-TV, Channel 5 in New York) Play-by-Play: Joe Buck Color Commentator: Troy Aikman Sideline: Chris Myers and Pam Oliver
RADIO WFAN will carry the game live. Bob Papa will handle play-by-play duties. Papa will be accompanied by former Giants defensive back D*ck Lynch⁈⁚s color commentary. Lynch⁈⁚s 39 years broadcasting for the Giants is a franchise record. Dave Jennings, the former Giants punter, will begin his fifth season in the broadcast booth, following 14 years of radio with the New York Jets. Fans throughout the Northeast can follow the call of the game on the following stations: New York: WPYX-FM (106.5) Albany, WIZR-AM (930) Johnstown, WAAL-FM (99.1) Binghamton, WIRY-AM (1340) Plattsburgh Pennsylvania: WEEX-AM (1230) Easton/Stroudsburg Maine: WRKD (1450) Augusta
Westwood Radio One will also carry the game live, featuring the play-by-play of Dave Sims, Bob Trumpy⁈⁚s analysis and John Dockery on the sideline.
Univision Radio will offer a national Spanish-language broadcast. Rafael Hernandez Brito will deliver play-by-play, accompanied by Eduardo Martell⁈⁚s color commentary.
Eagles Scouting Report By Michael Eisen, Giants.com
January 4, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. ⁈“ The Giants will face a familiar foe when they play the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in an NFC Wild Card Game in Lincoln Financial Field. The longtime rivals split their two games this season, with the Giants winning 30-24 in overtime in Philadelphia on Sept. 17 by overcoming a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit and the Eagles taking the rematch three weeks ago, 36-22. The NFC East champion Eagles won their final five games to finish the regular season 10-6. The Giants defeated Washington last week, 34-28, to finish 8-8. The Giants lead the regular season series, 76-66-2, and won both previous postseason meetings with the Eagles, a 27-21 victory in a 1981 Wild Card game in Philadelphia and a 20-7 triumph in a 2000 Divisional Playoff in Giants Stadium.
WR Plaxico Burress knows the Eagles secondary will challenge him throughout the game.
Offense The Eagles finished the season second in the NFL in offense with an average of 381.4 yards a game. They were 11th in rushing yards (124.0) and third in passing yards (257.4). The Eagles led the NFL with 74 offensive plays of 20 or more yards. Philadelphia⁈⁚s offense will be well-rested because Coach Andy Reid pulled most of his starters early in the season finale against Atlanta after learning Dallas had lost and the Eagles had clinched the division title.
Jeff Garcia became the starting quarterback when Donovan McNabb tore a knee ligament on Nov. 19. After losing his debut at Indianapolis, Garcia led the Eagles to those five straight victories, including three on the road against NFC East opponents. Virtually everything has gone right for Garcia, who completed 116 of 188 passes (61.7 percent) for 1,309 yards, 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Garcia is comfortable because he is running the same offense he was in when he was selected to three Pro Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. He has a career quarterback rating of 86.4, which ties him with Hall of Famer Dan Marino for 12th on the NFL⁈⁚s all-time list.
Reid has made a stronger commitment to the running game this season, which enabled Brian Westbrook to rush for a career-high 1,217 yards. Westbrook averaged 5.1 yards a carry and ran for seven touchdowns. Last month, Westbrook rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns in Giants Stadium. Reid runs Westbrook wide and up the middle, throws him short passes and sometimes fakes a run before throwing it to Westbrook, who is extremely dangerous in open spaces. Westbrook also led the Eagles with 77 receptions ⁈“ 27 more than runner-up L.J. Smith ⁈“ and added four more scores. The Eagles⁈⁚ personnel groupings and play-calling help create mismatches with Westbrook reaping the benefits. Correll Buckhalter is a bigger back who rushed for 345 yards this season and gains tough yards inside. Fullback Thomas Tapeh is a strong blocker who has made big plays as a receiver.
From the tight end spot Smith caught 50 passes for 611 yards and five touchdowns. He had a career-long 65-yard reception at Dallas on Christmas night. Backup Matt Schobel is a reliable receiver with good ball skills who came through in the clutch this year.
The Eagles have an exciting and productive pair of starting receivers in second-year pro Reggie Brown and Donte Stallworth (acquired in a trade with New Orleans just prior to the season). Both are big-play receivers. Brown had a team-high eight touchdown catches while leading the wideouts with 46 receptions. Stallworth, the 13th overall selection of the 2002 draft, is a dangerous deep threat who led the NFL with a 19.1 yards-per-catch average. He caught 38 passes despite missing three games with a hamstring strain. Rookie Hank Baskett is a big inside possession receiver who had an 89-yard touchdown among his season-high totals of seven catches for 177 yards last week against the Falcons. Baskett is the second player in NFL history with two receptions of 85-plus yards in his rookie season. Greg Lewis is a steady fourth receiver who caught 24 balls, including two touchdowns vs. Green Bay.
Philadelphia started the same five offensive linemen for all 16 games this season. The best player in the group is right guard Shawn Andrews, a 2004 first-round draft choice who was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Because of the job Andrews, left guard Todd Herremans and center Jamaal Jackson have done neutralizing defensive tackles, the Eagles have run the ball inside more effectively than in past seasons. Ornery right tackle Jon Runyan has started 160 consecutive regular season games, the league⁈⁚s fourth-longest active streak. The Eagles like to run Westbrook to the right side behind Andrews and Runyan. Right tackle William ⁈“ formerly Tra ⁈“ Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowler.
Defense Philadelphia⁈⁚s defense was ranked 15th overall (allowing 328.1 yards a game), including 26th against the run (136.4) and ninth vs. the pass (191.7).
The leader of the defense is middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who has become Tiki Barber⁈⁚s chief nemesis as he controls the middle of the field in the run game. If you don⁈⁚t block Trotter, he will make a tackle. He had a team-leading 161 of them in the regular season, including 97 solo and four for losses. The nine-year veteran is strong, physical and tough and the leader in the center of the defense. The strongside linebacker is former Giant Dhani Jones, who plays with speed and high effort. Rookie Omar Gaither, a fifth-round draft choice took the weakside job from Matt McCoy with five games remaining in the season. He had 14 tackles last week and a 12-yard sack of Eli Manning when the Eagles and Giants met last month. Shawn Barber is a versatile, athletic and smart veteran who plays in the sub packages.
The Eagles lost Jevon Kearse, their best pass rusher, to a knee injury suffered in the first Giants game. Without him, they have developed a strong six-man rotation up front, where the starters played exceptionally well down the stretch. The starting ends are Trent Cole, who led Philly with eight sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown against the Giants, and Darren Howard, who moves inside to tackle in the sub packages. Juqua Thomas is a fast and productive backup end who sacked Michael Vick twice last week. He is listed as questionable this week with a calf injury. Left tackle Mike Patterson is an excellent run defender and right tackle Darwin Walker provides a consistent inside pass rush (he had six sacks this season). Sam Rayburn is a good third tackle. All the defensive linemen play hard and are smart and tough.
Philadelphia⁈⁚s secondary features two Pro Bowlers in left cornerback Lito Sheppard and free safety Brian Dawkins. Sheppard led the Eagles with six interceptions, despite missing three games with an ankle sprain, including the first meeting with the Giants. He scored on a 102-yard interception return against Dallas and is the only player in NFL history with two 100-yard interception returns. The other corner is Sheldon Brown, who plays a lot of press coverage. It was Brown who pressured Manning on Cole⁈⁚s game-clinching interception last month. Dawkins, still the star of the secondary, had a huge game against the Giants. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after finishing with 16 tackles (11 solo), two forced fumbles and an interception. The six-time Pro Bowler remains a punishing tackler who has a team-high 111 solo takedowns among his 155 tackles. Sean Considine started the last 10 games at strong safety in place of Michael Lewis, who was inactive the last two weeks with a knee sprain. He is listed as probable for the Wild Card game. Roderick Hood is the nickel corner. Quintin Mikell is getting more playing time in the sub packages. William James ⁈“ who used to play for the Giants as William Peterson ⁈“ was inactive for the last three games with a calf sprain.
Special Teams David Akers is one of the NFL⁈⁚s best and most reliable kickers, with field goal range up to 60 yards. He made 18 of 23 field goal attempts this season and has succeeded on 17 of 21 in his postseason career. Punter Dirk Johnson had a 42.6-yard gross average and a 34.9-yard net average. The new long-snapper is Jon Dorenbos, who took over after Mike Bartrum suffered a season-ending injury. Reno Mahe has handled both kickoff (22.2-yard average) and punt (9.4) returns.
Knowing Fox, the game probably won't start til 4:45 pm. Its pretty sad commentary for the Giant prospects of winning this game. We may see the last game in this era of Giants. The next game we see the Giants in may not have Coughlin stalking the sidelines.Looking like a guy who just lost his car keyes. We definitely will not see Tiki flying into secondaries. It maybe the last we ever saw of Strahan offering up any substantial defense on a consistent basis. Who knows the new coach may finally have had enough of Shockey's lip early. and bench him. And ole Plexi may be long gone. That'll leave with Eli and less weapons than he ever has had. Speaking of Eli, who the heck told him to take the Giants over the Chargers ? Well so much a peak into the distant future. As for the Sunday future, unless the Giants force the Eagles into a calamity of errors early and late they have slim and no chance of keeping this one close. And I might add, slim left town!