The thing about fourth-quarter comebacks is that, if a team plays well enough during the first three-fourths of the game, they’re not necessary. Similarly, picking on something that went wrong on a late drive is fine, but doing so tends to ignore things that happened earlier in the game — things that put the team in such a situation in the first place. Having said that, ugh, let’s talk about the fourth quarter of last night’s Giants-Eagles game.
The Giants — led by Eli Manning — have completed so many late comebacks in the past couple of years that one expects them to do it every time. Especially in games like last night’s, when the degree of difficulty wasn’t especially high: Yes, the Eagles have a tough defense and the Giants had no time-outs remaining, but 1:49 is an eternity to Manning, and they started the drive following a solid kick-off return, and most significantly, they needed only a field goal. Then again, this was a fourth quarter that started with a bad omen: On the first play of the quarter, with the Giants on the Eagles ten-yard line, Manning threw an inexcusable interception to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the end zone.
But following an Eagles field goal, a Giants touchdown, and another Eagles field goal (after the Giants’ defense buckled down once Philly got inside the ten), Manning had a chance to work his magic. It was hardly a crisp drive, though: The biggest gain came on a Philadelphia pass interference penalty. Shortly thereafter, the Giants would get a new set of downs on another pass interference call. By the end of the drive — when the Giants needed to gain small chunks of yardage to give Lawrence Tynes a better shot at a game-winning field goal, they continued to throw deep, but neither completed the passes not drew any further pass interference calls.
And of course, the moment that will stick with them for the rest of the season was the Ramses Barden pass interference call on second and nine from the Philadelphia 26. Even if the Giants didn’t gain another yard at that point, Tynes would have been attempting about a 44-yard field goal. But the ten-yard loss — and the team’s subsequent inability to gain even a few yards on the next play, meant Tynes would be attempting a 54-yard field goal instead. The perfect ending to this game — the one that would have allowed us all to point and laugh at Andy Reid — would have been for Tynes to make the field goal on his second attempt, after Reid tried to freeze him on the first one, which missed by plenty. Instead, Tynes kick was on-line but fell short, effectively ending the game. The final score: Eagles 19, Giants 17.
Again, that was only one of many drives that didn’t end with any points. And other issues had already emerged before that point: Manning wasn’t sacked last night, but was under a fair amount of pressure, and the Giants rushed for a total of 57 yards on 19 carries. (Meanwhile, on the encouraging end of the performance spectrum, David Wilson — who got zero carries last night — made himself useful and had a nice night returning kicks.)
Say this about the Giants: They’re giving us the kind of games we expected from them, both in terms of high drama and mixed results. But with a quarter of the season in the books, the Giants are just 2-2 — and, remember, they’ve got a brutal schedule ahead of them. Also a concern: They’re 0-2 in the division, with losses to both the Eagles (who are currently alone in first at 3-1), and the Cowboys (who are 2-1 and play tonight). They’ve got legitimate flaws but also major strengths, and every week is a maddening adventure. One hopes that next week’s game — at home against the 0-4 Browns — will be an exception.