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"Mentally, this has to take a lot out of us," said Pepper Johnson, the Giants' budding star at inside linebacker. "We need to go home and stare at the walls for a few days to forget something like this."
The odd thing about this game was that the Giants and the Eagles seemed to have exchanged on-field personalities. This day, the Eagles established the run and the Giants went to the long pass. This day, the Giants made dumb mistakes and the Eagles, after two early turnovers, were the efficient team. This day, the respected gentleman, Bavaro, was ejected and the notorious bad boy, Eagle strong safety Andre Waters, did not draw a flag.
There was an omen of these changes in Parcells's having assistant coach Tom Coughlin tell the receivers in their last meeting Saturday night, "Coach Parcells has been reading in the paper that you guys are saying you have to make the most of your opportunities. Well, you're going to get your opportunities in this game."
When it came to passing, the Giants had been playing it safe. Indeed, Simms had built his league-leading 108.0 quarterback rating by focusing on tosses to backs Dave Meggett and Rodney Hampton at the expense of the downfield passing game. The offensive plan was working, obviously, but Parcells wanted to throw the Eagles a changeup because he was well aware that Philadelphia could stuff his running game.
In their previous five meetings with the Eagles, the ground-hugging Giants had averaged 79.8 rushing yards, and they had lost four times. For this game, Parcells wanted Simms to revert to the way he had played in 1984, his first full season as a starter. That year Simms threw bombs to his wideouts, and passed for 4,044 yards. It seemed like good strategy, especially in light of the defensive schemes Philly was hatching for the game.
Eagle defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher planned to insert an extra linebacker, Britt Hager, into the lineup for cornerback Eric Allen on most first-down plays and all goal-line situations, the theory being that it's almost impossible to run against an eight-man front made up of so many large people. The way Philadelphia figured it, when New York tried to run into the gut of the Eagle defense, tackles Mike Golic (275 pounds) and Brown (295) would be there to stonewall them; and when Meggett and Hampton ran routes out of the backfield, the Giants wouldn't be able to isolate them in single coverage because of all those linebackers lurking about. The clogging effect of the 4-4 defense would force the Giants to throw deep. "It's worked pretty well for us," Fisher said after the game, "but you're never quite sure how it will work, because football is such a chess game."
The Giants were in position to make the first move, though, when Johnson recovered a fumble at the Philly 43. But on second down, wideout Mark Ingram, in traffic, dropped a pass at the five, and instead of leading 7-0, New York had to punt. Johnson struck again minutes later, when he sledgehammered the ball out of running back Keith Byars's hands and the Giants recovered at the Eagle 18. This time Ingram hung on to a Simms pass at the goal line, and New York led 7-0.
It took Philadelphia only three plays to catch up. On second-and-seven from his 37, Cunningham scrambled past Taylor and gained 14 yards. Then he threw a per-feet spiral to Barnett, who beat Walls for the 49-yard touchdown.
On the next series, the Giants moved to the Eagle 38, and again Simms looked for Ingram near the end zone. Philly corner Ben Smith pinned Ingram's right arm behind his back, but there was no pass-interference call. New York punted again, frustrated that it was in a 7-7 tie, when it might have been ahead 21-7 and killing the Eagles with the deep pass.
The rest of the day belonged to Philadelphia. Cunningham outsmarted Taylor on a one-yard TD sneak on fourth-and-one in the second quarter. It was the play that put Philadelphia ahead for good. In the huddle, Cunningham called, "Tough Brown Right Zip Quarterback Sneak Left," which in layman's terms meant Cunningham was going over the left guard. But Taylor set up as a middle linebacker, shading in the direction that Cunningham wanted to go. When the ball was snapped, Cunningham changed his mind and went over right guard. Touchdown.