PHILADELPHIA — They took a big lead and were ahead for the first 50 minutes on a made-for-football Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Oh, there were moments when Saquon Barkley was rampaging and Eli Manning was slinging it, and there was a fleeting thought the Giants were about to steamroll the Eagles and keep this newfound winning vibe going.
No. Not this time. Not this season. Not this team.
The equity built up in an almost-glorious first half started slipping away with a dreadful Manning interception near the goal line 17 seconds before halftime. Instead of building on their eight-point lead, the Giants ran and hid in a dismal second half filled with not enough Barkley, not close to enough Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard testing a very suspect defensive secondary and almost no more points. When Jake Elliott — him again — nailed a 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining, the Giants were 25-22 losers, allowing this sad season to pivot to the future, the farfetched thought they could dig out of a 1-7 hole and make anything of 2018 now resigned to the scrap heap.
“We wanted to win this game and keep things going and stay in the hunt and keep fighting,’’ Manning said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t take advantage of this one.’’
This one was there for the Giants. The Eagles, coming in with a two-game losing streak, were reeling in the first half and ready to get knocked out. The Giants never even took enough swings to send the defending Super Bowl champs to the canvas. The Eagles could not stop Barkley (94 rushing yards, 37 receiving yards in the first half) and sure were relieved coach Pat Shurmur gave Barkley only four carries in the second half.
“When we knock ourselves off with penalties and then sacks and all that bad stuff, then you get off-schedule trying to get the ball to Saquon and Odell and the guys that need to touch it,’’ Shurmur said.
Thus ends the charade that the Giants could somehow overcome their terrible first half of the season. At 3-8, the Giants are done, three games behind the Cowboys (6-5) and Redskins (6-5) and two behind the Eagles (5-6) in the very mediocre NFC East.
“I’m not worried about that,’’ Shurmur said. “We’re right in the moment. We’re not worried about slim paths. We’re not worried about where we need to go.’’
The Giants have now lost five straight games to the Eagles and nine of their last 10 games in the series.
Barkley’s brilliant 51-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter put the Giants ahead 19-3 and the sound of jeers could be heard at the Linc. Carson Wentz’s scoring pass to Zach Ertz and the-two-point conversion made it 19-11, but the Giants got a 46-yard kickoff return from Corey Coleman and were again on the attack. Already in field-goal range on the Philly 27-yard line, Manning ignored Barkley, open on the 25-yard line with room to run, and instead fired toward the end zone, into double-coverage, for Beckham. Safety Malcolm Jenkins came away with an easy interception.
Shurmur blamed himself for the turnover, saying he did not think the Eagles would be playing that particular defense. Manning blamed himself. “One-hundred percent bad decision on me,’’ he said.
The entire second half was an offensive abomination. The Giants gained only 56 yards after halftime, produced only three points and three first downs. Barkley ran four times for 7 yards. Beckham had two catches for 22 yards.
“I know everyone wants to be a coach and think what we should call, but they know what they are doing,’’ Barkley said of the offensive coaching staff.
Beckham and Shepard saw it a bit differently. The Eagles played without their top five cornerbacks, ripe for the picking in the secondary. Yet the Giants rarely tried to attack that glaring weakness.
“Yup, thought so,’’ Shepard said, asked if he expected the Giants to exploit the Eagles’ corners. “Just wasn’t the case. We were confident in the run game, I guess. Tried to attack ’em in the run game, it worked in the first half, but they made adjustments. And that was it.’’
“Honestly that’s a question for coach, that’s not my kind of question,’’ Beckham said. “I don’t call the plays. Coming in, knowing that they struggled in the secondary, personally I would have loved to attack ’em, but it wasn’t in our game plan.’’
Josh Adams scored on a 1-yard run and got the two-point conversion as the Eagles took a 22-19 lead early in the fourth quarter. Beckham, from the Eagles’ 11-yard line was held by one of those emergency cornerbacks, Cre’Von LeBlanc, but there was no call and the Giants settled for a field goal to tie the game at 22 with 5:49 remaining.
The Giants needed a stop, and their defense did not come close. Elliott, who beat the Giants last season with a titanic 61-yard field goal, this time had an easier time drilling the game-winner.
“Things were looking great for us, we were on a roll,’’ Shepard said. “We weren’t able to come up with this one and it hurts.’’