PHILADELPHIA, NOV. 25 -- Talking trash is something the Philadelphia Eagles do extremely well, and lately all that noise has been backed by bone-breaking action. Just ask New York Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson, who was hit so hard on a block by Eagles running back Keith Byars his body did an involuntary twisting somersault.
This wasn't the kind of game the previously undefeated Giants wanted. The surgeon general doesn't recommend kicking, scratching and punching with the vociferous Eagles. But that's what the Giants did, and that's why they lost, 31-13, before 66,706 at Veterans Stadium. Philadelphia has won five of its last six against the Giants.
"We knew we could win and win convincingly," said Eagles defensive end Reggie White, who during the week boasted his team was the better one. "There was no doubt in anyone's mind on this team that we could come in and dominate."
New York is now a more mortal 10-1, and with the 49ers likewise after losing to the Rams today, the NFL has no unbeaten teams and the "unprecedented" is taken off next Monday night's matchup of San Francisco and the Giants.
As for the Eagles, well, they flashed Super Bowl quality. They were led as usual by quarterback Randall Cunningham, who accounted for three touchdowns, and assisted by the cotton-soft hands of Byars, who had eight catches for 128 yards.
Philadelphia, loser of three of its first four games, has come back by winning five straight and at 7-4 leads the pack of six teams fighting for three NFC wild-card spots. Lest they not be misunderstood: "We're back," said left tackle Ron Heller. "Go tell the world."
The Giants could have clinched the NFC East with a win. Instead they left the City of Brotherly Love battered and bruised, street-fight style, and stripped of their distinctive winning streak.
"It's disappointing to lose," said Phil Simms, who was sacked twice. The streak "was special. It was a lot of fun. It kept us alive and fresh. But now we need to start another one."
Asked if his Giants lost composure against a team that brags about knocking four quarterbacks out of its previous three games, all-pro linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who had just one solo tackle, said: "We did. We did. We lost our composure several times. And that's not like us. In a game where you get a lot of talkers, we turned it into a street fight instead of a football game."
"We didn't play Giant football today -- we lost our cool," said linebacker Johnie Cooks. Case in point was the ejection of tight end Mark Bavaro with 12:50 left for pushing an official after he was called for unnecessary roughness. Cooks added: "Hopefully this is a wake-up call."
The Giants were taken out of their game almost from the start, their usual formula of Ottis Anderson grinding out rushing yardage to blend with high-precision passes by Simms.
Simms averages 23 passes a game. Today he threw 22 in the first half. He was unusually erratic -- 17 of 40 for 234 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions -- certainly not statistics of the league's highest-rated passer. And the Giants' difficulties showed in time of possession, the Eagles owning the ball more than 38 minutes.
Simms continually missed open receivers, sometimes lobbing sad-looking ducks. The offense was sluggish: Anderson had three carries, nine yards.
The Giants found themselves trailing at the half, 14-13. Falling behind is something they aren't used to: Until today they had been down only 41 out of 600 total minutes.
Then there was Cunningham, proving anew why he is probably the most versatile and talented quarterback in the league.
He plunged a yard for a touchdown and passed for touchdowns of 49 and six yards.
The latter was Cunningham magic. On third and goal at the 6, he bounced outside a heavy pass rush and drilled the ball to Fred Barnett, who tipped it in the end zone and into the hands of fellow rookie wide receiver Calvin Williams. That put the Eagles up by 11 with 13:12 left. Cunningham now has 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions his last four games.
The 49-yard touchdown to Barnett in the first quarter was the longest this season against the Giants defense -- up to now ranked second in the NFL -- and the first score by a wide receiver against the Giants all season. And the 80-yard drive that ended in Cunningham's fourth rushing touchdown of the year is the longest any team has gone to score on New York this season.
"Damn near everything that could happen to us did," said safety Dave Duerson.
Cunningham was barely touched behind the line. His protection was a combination of his great moves and great blocking, particularly by running back Anthony Toney and Heller. Toney started over Heath Sherman specifically to help with the blocking of Taylor. Coach Buddy Ryan calls Toney "the Giant killer."
"The whole game I hadn't been touched," Cunningham said. "I was like, 'Dang, what's going on?' I don't know what's wrong with LT."
Taylor thought he knew.
"So much holding," he said, "it took the heart right out of me."