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A Giants Collapse for the Ages

It seems sort of fitting that last night, as Giants fans lay down their heads after an excruciating afternoon of football, ESPN re-broadcast its 30 for 30 documentary about Reggie Miller and the mid-nineties Knicks. You'll recall how Miller once scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to steal a victory during the 1995 playoffs, how Anthony Mason inexplicably fouled Miller with the score tied and just 7.5 seconds remaining to set up the game-winning free throws, how those Knicks choked away a seemingly safe lead. What the Giants did yesterday — and the sick feeling fans got from watching it unfold — had a lot in common with that Knicks collapse, with just a dash of Joe Pisarcik and Herm Edwards thrown in.

The Giants had been in complete control of yesterday's game, and of their own destiny in the NFC East: They entered the locker room with a 21-point halftime lead thanks to a costly, late Eagles turnover and Eli Manning's third touchdown pass of the half. The Giants defense had done its job, as well, holding Michael Vick to just 33 passing yards (plus an interception) and 23 rushing yards.

Then, later still, as the Eagles showed signs of life in the third quarter, Andy Reid's curious decision not to challenge DeSean Jackson's fumble gave the Giants the ball, and, some four minutes later, another 21-point lead, this time with just 8:17 remaining. The Giants were just eight minutes from first place in the NFC East and a chance to win the division so long as they won out. Eight minutes from the confidence boost a team gets from so thoroughly defeating a rival, in such a hyped game. Eight minutes from finally beating the Eagles.

Then came a two-play, 75-yard drive. And then a recovered onside kick, and suddenly Philadelphia had the ball down fourteen. Now, the Giants couldn't stop Vick, in the air or on the run: a 35-yard scramble here, a 33-yard run there, and that fourteen-point lead became seven, and finally zero. As the saying goes, the prevent defense merely prevented them from winning. Overtime, it appeared, was inevitable — first place to be decided, in part, by a coin flip.

And then, Matt Dodge happened. Look, the Giants didn't lose because of Matt Dodge alone — after all, he's not on the defense that had already allowed 21 points in the quarter — but the image of Tom Coughlin berating Dodge, who'd been instructed to punt the ball out of bounds, will forever be attached to this collapse. (Not to suggest that Dodge, who, yes, had to deal with a high snap, is innocent here. Coughlin's on-the-field words to Dodge were surely a lovely sonnet compared to what Giants fans have been screaming at Dodge through their televisions this season.) In any case, Jackson made them pay for letting him field the kick: Eagles 38, Giants 31. Still stunning, the morning after.

It had been only four years since the Giants last squandered a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead, but that one didn't come in a Week 15 battle for first place. (Also: Here comes the Bill Cowher speculation.) The good news, if you're in any mood to hear good news this morning, is that the Giants are still, right now, in playoff position. They'd be the six-seed and face Chicago in the first round. The Wild Card is still a real possibility, and it certainly helped that Green Bay, whom the Giants play next weekend, lost last night, not long after Reggie Miller was done tormenting the Knicks a few channels up. No one's forgetting yesterday's game anytime soon, and just as you can picture Herm Edwards running into the end zone in 1978, you won't soon forget Jackson running along the goal line with the clock reading 0:00. But the season isn't over yet. We're not sure a team that could let that happen would have much success in the playoffs, but still, it'd be nice to have the chance to find out.

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Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images