At last Thursday's practice, Ryan was asked what he would try to do against the Giants. "Establish the run," he said. Eyes turned skyward because that is what he says every week. In the first halves of their previous games, the Eagles tried to establish the run, which is what you do so people won't call you a sissy, and then in the second halves they let Cunningham do his thing and try to win the game.
But if you looked closely in the early going Sunday, you could see little signs that things were going to be different. On the first play of the game, Keith Byars ran right for seven yards. This was the longest gain of the season for Byars, who came into the game with 15 carries for 24 yards. On the next series he had a nine-yarder, again to the right side.
Later, when the Eagles were down 16-7 in the fourth quarter, the play that got them back in the game was a 44-yard run by fullback Anthony Toney, the longest in his four-year career. It, too, came on the right side. To freeze linebacker Lawrence Taylor, the play began with a fake reverse toward the other side of the field. "We looked like a pro football team," said Ryan. "We ran the ball. We did the things we had to to win."
Running wasn't the whole story, of course, but it was a big part of it. The Eagles' numbers on the ground were 36 carries for 158 yards. The Giants hadn't allowed that many rushing yards in 19 games. Cunningham's passing stats were meager (10 completions in 24 attempts for 106 yards), but the Eagles' ratio of run to pass was unusual. Only the Miami Dolphins entered Sunday with a higher pass-to-run ratio than Philly.
Cunningham, being Cunningham, did it with his legs as well as his arm. Late in the second quarter he completed a full gainer over linebacker Gary Reasons and safety Terry Kinard (degree of difficulty: 3.5) from five yards out for Philly's first touchdown. Then, with the ball on the New York one-yard line early in the fourth quarter, he sprinted to his left, was tackled and barely reached the ball into the end zone. Touchdown, ruled the line judge. Cunningham's knee hit the ground short of the goal line, the ball was over it, and the replay official said "inconclusive." On the winning drive in the final minutes, Cunningham's seven-yard scramble set up Toney's two-yard TD run.
Cunningham ran for 44 yards but for once he didn't lead the team in rushing. That honor went to Toney, who had 68 yards on 12 carries. "Randall made some big first downs for us," Ryan said. "If not for Randall we'd lose 100-0. Hell, yes, I want him to run. He's an athlete. Fran Tarkenton ran for Minnesota. Roger Staubach kept Dallas in the playoffs by running. If I start worrying about him, that's when he'll get hurt. Everyone's playing football out there."
Philly got off to its usual slow start. The Giants put up two field goals in the first half, plus a touchdown—a 22-yard pass from backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler to linebacker Carl Banks on a fake field goal. Philly answered with a fake field goal of its own, a hopeless pop-fly pass by punter John Teltschik. It was intercepted but drew an interference penalty, setting up Cunningham's first scoring dive. The Eagles were running the ball a bit but doing little else, and the Giants had unleashed a new force, 5'7", 180-pound, rookie halfback Dave Meggett, the smallest man on their team.
Mark the name down. He had been mostly a return man, but when the Giants realized that O.J. Anderson—and the power-running game that had served them so well—was getting stuffed, they turned to the little guy, a fifth-round pick from Towson State. They used Meggett in the backfield, and they put him out on the flank, occasionally going with a five-wideout set on long-yardage downs. Meggett figured prominently in each of New York's first-half scoring drives, and he had a game-high six catches for 89 yards. But it was the way he caught the passes that was so impressive: effortlessly. He looked as if he were born to be an NFL pass catcher. "He reminds me of the Bears' Dennis Gentry," said Eagles linebacker Al Harris. "I never heard of him. I know him now."
One good sign for the Eagles was that they weren't giving up anything deep or cheap. In the second half their pass rush began to have an impact, and New York stalled. "At half-time we told them to cut back on the blitzes and let us handle it," said defensive tackle Jerome Brown.
The Giants scored on a field goal to extend their lead to 16-7 as the fourth quarter opened. The Eagles, whose three third-quarter possessions had been a trio of three downs and out, got a 45-yard return from Heath Sherman on the ensuing kickoff. The next play, Toney's 44-yarder, set up the touchdown that closed the gap to 16-14. The Giants got another field goal with 5:59 left to extend their lead to 19-14. Then Cunningham began the 81-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown.