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Eagles Capture NFC East

Manning Is Ineffective as Giants Provide Little Resistance: Eagles 27, Giants 6

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2004; Page D11

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Nov. 28 -- The NFC East had the look and feel of a deep, powerful division when the season began. The teams chasing the Philadelphia Eagles spent the offseason luring big-name coaches back to the sideline and stocking their rosters with prominent veteran players, trying to close the gap on the three-time defending division champs and recapture the glory days when the Washington Redskins, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys would take turns raising Super Bowl trophies.

The mission hasn't been accomplished. Far, far from it, in fact. The competition has been meeker than ever and the Eagles have stormed through the division with virtually no resistance, clinching their fourth straight NFC East crown Sunday at Giants Stadium by walloping the second-place Giants, 27-6.

Philadelphia's Corey Simon, left, and Darwin Walker combine for one of five sacks of New York's Eli Manning. (Bill Kostroun -- AP)

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The Philadelphia defense limited Giants quarterback Eli Manning to six completions in 21 throws and intercepted him twice in his second NFL start. The Eagles scored 20 unanswered points in the second half in improving their record to 10-1 and becoming the first NFL team since the San Francisco 49ers in 1997 to clinch a division title only 11 games into a season. They are the division's lone winning club, as the Giants lost their fourth straight game to fall to 5-6. They're 1-5 since a 4-1 start.

"It's nice to win the NFC East again," Eagles Coach Andy Reid said. "You never take it for granted. But we still have a lot to do. . . . There are some other things out there we're interested in."

Indeed, the Eagles' celebration was less than jubilant because they know they will be judged by what happens in January and, they hope, in February. After losing the last three NFC title games, they opened their checkbook in the offseason to make a Super Bowl-or-bust run by adding wide receiver Terrell Owens and defensive end Jevon Kearse. Anything short of a berth in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., on Feb. 6 qualifies as a disappointment.

They are attempting to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs and have won each of their games against an NFC opponent this season by at least 10 points. They are 4-0 against NFC East foes, with an average margin of victory of 21 points. They have beaten the Giants twice by a total of 35 points. Those two wins give the Eagles the tiebreaker advantage over the Giants, meaning that the division race is over even though the two clubs technically still could finish tied with records of 10-6.

"It says a lot for our organization and our team," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "Despite what happened the last three years, we continue to fight. We continue to reload and continue to battle."

Said Owens: "It's just one step closer to where we need to get to. We're definitely trying to set the table and get home field. I'm happy with our accomplishments, but this is just the beginning. . . . We're trying to get to Jacksonville."

Owens had a relatively quiet game Sunday, with four catches for 61 yards. He didn't score a touchdown and didn't have a reception until the third quarter. But tailback Brian Westbrook rushed for 74 yards and scored a pair of second-half touchdowns, the first on a one-yard run in the third quarter and the second on a 34-yard reception on a fourth-quarter screen pass. McNabb completed 18 of 27 passes for 244 yards, and scored a second-quarter touchdown on a four-yard run. Kicker David Akers connected on field goals of 47 and 42 yards.

Kearse set up Philadelphia's second touchdown of the day with a blocked punt. He usually isn't on the field on punt returns but was there this time because the Eagles left him and other front-line defensive players in the game to protect against a possible fake. The Eagles got possession at the Giants 28-yard line after the deflection and upped their lead to 20-6 on Westbrook's first touchdown of the afternoon.

The Eagles harassed Manning constantly with blitzes and sacked him five times. Manning, the top overall choice in the draft in April who replaced veteran Kurt Warner as the Giants' starter last weekend, had a pair of long first-half completions -- 50 and 52 yards -- to rookie wide receiver Jamaar Taylor on superbly thrown deep passes.

But the Giants got only a 22-yard field goal by kicker Steve Christie after Taylor's 50-yard reception on their second possession of the game. And they squandered their second big passing play entirely. Manning followed, on a first-down play from the Philadelphia 3, with an underthrown pass toward tight end Jeremy Shockey on a fade pattern in the back corner of the end zone that was intercepted by Eagles safety Quintin Mikell.

Manning also had his first throw of the second half intercepted by Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. The Giants wasted tailback Tiki Barber's 110 rushing yards and went dormant in the second half. They had only 47 yards of offense and demonstrated any spunk only when linebacker Barrett Green was ejected for a scuffle with Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter on the Giants' sideline after Trotter was penalized for a late hit out of bounds on Manning.

"I didn't lose confidence,'' Manning said. "I didn't get shaken. I just have to keep working and keep getting better. . . . The second half, we couldn't move the ball."

Giants Coach Tom Coughlin didn't spare the feelings of his prized rookie, saying: "It wasn't a good performance. The two interceptions . . . were definitely setbacks. . . . I didn't think the protection was very good and I didn't think we reacted very well to their pressure."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company