PHILADLELPHIA — Big games after Thanksgiving, with December closing in, are not manufactured or designed or debated. They are earned.
The Giants have not earned the right to affix Sunday’s encounter with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field with “big-game’’ status. The humdrum records of the other three teams in the NFC East are what they are, and they are why anyone is paying attention to what the Giants do in Week 12 — a time when contenders begin the push to firm up their grips or loose hold of their place in the division and conference pecking order. As unimpressive as the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys have been, the Giants, despite putting together back-to-back victories for the first time this season, still lag behind the pack.
This is the line of demarcation for the Giants. A 3-7 record would normally mean they are down and out, but in this NFC East, they are merely down. If they beat the sagging Eagles to improve to 4-7, it puts the Giants two games behind the Cowboys (6-5) and Redskins (6-5) with five to play. That keeps the Giants alive, barely — with remaining games in Washington and against the Cowboys, still on the outside, looking in, but at least able to catch a glimpse of first place in a division riddled with mediocrity and, in the case of the Redskins, compromised by a devastating season-ending injury to quarterback Alex Smith.
A loss to the Eagles and the despicable 1-7 first half of the season proves constant losing cannot be navigated around, and the games in December will be about saving face and looking ahead — with the sitting Eli Manning for rookie Kyle Lauletta plan back on the docket after a two-week stay of execution.
“Usually the way it works is, whoever is playing the best football in late November and into December” has the edge, Manning said of the playoff chase in most years. “We have to make up some ground, and the only way to do that is to keep winning.’’
An offensive awakening the past two weeks (65 points) sparked victories over bottom-feeders (49ers and Buccaneers). The Eagles are riding a two-game losing streak, and last week’s 48-7 wipeout in New Orleans was the most lopsided loss ever for a Super Bowl defending champion. If the Eagles — severely depleted at cornerback — do not get their stuff together right now, they will be tied with the Giants in last place.
“It’s unchartered territory a little bit,’’ Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “I think the guys have really handled it well. They’re disappointed, they’re frustrated, quite frankly, as we all are. We haven’t played up to the caliber that we’re capable of playing. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us, and we’re not going to do the same.’’
The Eagles are the bosses in this relationship, beating the Giants four consecutive times — including a 34-13 thrashing Oct. 11 — and winning eight of the past nine games in the series. In the 20 games played in this matchup since 2008, the Giants are 4-16.
Since they last tangled and were overmatched by the Eagles, the Giants have added Jamon Brown to a reshuffled offensive line and are featuring rookie Saquon Barkley more prominently in a revitalized running game.
“We’re a much different team in a lot of ways,” coach Pat Shurmur said.
The Giants hope so.
Eagles DTs Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata vs. Giants interior OL Will Hernandez, Spencer Pulley and Jamon Brown
This where the Eagles historically have feasted on the Giants, pressuring the middle of the pocket, which causes all sorts of disruption to Eli Manning. DEs Michael Bennett (5.5 sacks) and Brandon Graham (3) do a good job penetrating from the outside, often bottling Manning up with no place to go. Cox (4 sacks) is relentless and will be a huge challenge, especially for Brown, a big man who has led an offensive line resurgence.
“There’s good players and it starts obviously with Fletcher Cox,’’ Manning said. “He’s a disruptive player right there in the middle. They do a good job getting to the quarterback and being disruptive in the run game, so we got to handle that, try to get the ball out quickly.’’
Back where they belong: The Giants were without their top two tight ends the last time they faced the Eagles — Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison were out with injuries. Thus, there was no ability to run any multiple tight end sets. Last week, Ellison and Scott Simonson received more snaps than Engram, evidence this offense is evolving into more of a run-oriented attack. Still, Engram is a legitimate pass-catching weapon, and the Giants are a far better team with him available and on the field.
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“They got Engram back, but even getting him back they still have a lot of two-back sets, two-tight-end sets, and tried to be a little bit more of a power running team,’’ Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “Quite honestly, that’s what I would do against us right now. We’re going to have to be ready for it.’’
Party’s over: They despise hearing it, but sometimes the truth hurts. A year after capturing the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, the Eagles are in the throes of a Super Bowl hangover. Injuries are a huge factor in their demise, but nothing is quite what it was in 2017. Coach Doug Pederson has lost his magic touch as a play-caller. There is a Super Bowl logo emblazoned inside their locker room and “The New Norm’’ is written on a side hallway where players pass on their way to the field. Does any of this have anything to do with the struggles this season?
“No,’’ Pederson said sternly. Have the Eagles not been able to handle their success? “No,’’ Pederson said, not expanding on the denial.
Sound the alarm: It looks as if the Giants will go against the most injury-ravaged defensive backfield in the league. The Eagles will play without five cornerbacks who were on their opening-day roster and go with three corners who were not on the team two weeks ago. This is not even patchwork, this is threadbare. As long as the offensive line can protect Manning — a big “if” — there should be repeated opportunities for Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Engram to exploit the likes of Chandon Sullivan, De’Vante Bausby and Cre’von LeBlanc as well as a safety group that includes starter Malcom Jenkins and a bunch of reserves.
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Wentz Upon a Time: After just four interceptions in the first nine games, the Giants have six interceptions the past two. Despite the turnovers, this is a shaky defense with little pass rush about to face Carson Wentz, coming off the worst performance of his brief career. The Eagles are struggling with their rushing attack — with rookie Josh Adams, off the practice squad, surprisingly taking over the lead role. Wentz needs to rebound and the Giants could be ripe for the taking after giving up chunks of passing yards to Nick Mullens, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston.
All the trends point to the Giants, but this is the Eagles’ last stand, and the Linc will be as hostile and uninviting as ever. Perhaps the Giants can start fast and turn the fans against the home team. Or else Carson Wentz exploits a shabby New York defense and playing catch-up leads to Giants turnovers.
Eagles 31, Giants 27