Early Sunday morning, New York Giants coach Bill Parcells was well into his second cup of coffee, killing the last few minutes before he would leave for Veterans Stadium and a game against NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles. Most weeks, Parcells finds something to worry about before a game; usually he wonders if his team will be ready to play. Not this day. Not against the Eagles. "I don't worry about my guys today," he said, staring straight ahead. "They'll be ready."
But being ready to play the Eagles, the Giants have found in recent years, is not the same as being ready to play the Washington Redskins or the San Francisco 49ers. There's something different about playing Philly, something similar to what happens in a feeding frenzy. The Eagle defense forces a turnover, the offense capitalizes, the defense swarms, the defense scores, the Philadelphia fans become delirious, with a bloodthirsty glee. "If you let us get any confidence or get ahead of you, we'll kill you" is how defensive tackle Jerome Brown puts it. Well, that was sort of what happened Sunday.
Philadelphia's offense outhit the New York defense, the best in the NFC. Its 4-4 defense rattled the league's top-rated quarterback, Phil Simms. Its blockers rendered Lawrence Taylor, once the most-feared player in the game but now on the decline, virtually invisible. And its quarterback, the unstoppable Randall Cunningham, beat the Giants every which way in a 31-13 victory that punctured New York's dream of an undefeated season.
Memo to Paul Tagliabue: Can the Giants, who were 10-0 going into Sunday's game, take a mulligan? This was their hook into the deep rough, their way of ruining their half of Super Bowl XXIV½, that much-heralded meeting of unbeatens that was to take place in San Francisco this Monday night. Now, of course, it will be a much-less-heralded meeting of once-beatens, what with the 49ers having lost on Sunday too (page 40).
Now all New York can do is tee up another ball and try to forget the one it shanked against the Eagles. Even though Simms said in the locker room after the game, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "Yeah, we're 10-1 now, and we're one of the worst teams in the league," this was an alarming loss for the Giants, because they looked so unlike the team that had won 10 straight. O.K., it might have been a fluke showing by New York. We'll see. But for a day, the Eagles were the beasts of the NFC East, and the Giants were beastly.
The worrisome points New York now will have to address:
•Against the Eagles, the Giants didn't do the things that had kept them unbeaten. Their credo under Parcells always has been: You know what we're going to do; now try to stop us. The Giants dictate. In this game, they were dictated to. During their 10 wins, their run-pass ratio was 58% running plays to 42% passing plays. In the first 33 minutes against Philly, only nine of New York's 35 plays were rushes. Even though those nine runs yielded an average of 4.2 yards, Parcells said afterward, "I didn't think we could sustain the rushing game against them."
•Taylor is not the dominating player he was. Once the premier pass rusher in the game, LT has had 1½ sacks in the last eight games. His mere presence forced teams to make adjustments in their offense, and then on game day he would go out to his linebacking spot and ruin whatever plans had been made to stop him. Now the 31-year-old Taylor is getting smothered regularly on game day. Three times on Sunday he got into footraces with Cunningham, and twice Cunningham blew by him. Taylor nailed Cunningham the third time—with a shoe tackle. LT's totals against the Eagles: no sacks, one solo tackle and one assist. "I felt heavy today," he said after the game. Huh?
•The New York defense is flawed. A good secondary has helped to obscure short-comings in the Giants' pass rush. But on Sunday, New York cornerback Everson Walls was outraced on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham to rookie wideout Fred Barnett. And the Eagles had two Giant-like drives—16 plays for 80 yards in 9:22, and 15 plays for 84 yards in 8:48—that ended in touchdowns.
•New York lost its poise. The Giants were shouting at the Eagles and getting into shoving matches with them, and New York tight end Mark Bavaro was thrown out of the game after being flagged for pushing an official. "We lost our composure several times, and that's not like us," Taylor said. "The game turned into a street fight instead of a football game."