Twenty-five years after stunning the Giants with “The Fumble,” the Eagles now have “The Punt Return” to torment them.
Brian Westbrook scored on an 84-yard punt return with 1:16 to play Sunday, leading the Eagles to a 14-10 victory over the mistake-prone Giants.
“I had a feeling I was going to get a return,” Westbrook said after Philadelphia (3-3) took advantage of yet another special teams meltdown by the Giants (2-4).
Until the return, the Giants’ defense dominated the game between the two struggling NFC East powers. It limited Donovan McNabb and company to 134 total yards, with the Eagles getting one first down and 23 yards in the second half.
With 1:34 to play, all the Giants needed was to have Jeff Feagles get off a punt. Then Michael Strahan and the defense would go out and protect a lead New York took on a 1-yard third-quarter TD pass from Kerry Collins to Jeremy Shockey.
It all went awry.
The Eagles put everyone on the line of scrimmage except Westbrook and special teams captain Ike Reese.
Feagles got off the punt without seriously being rushed, but he didn’t get much hang time on the somewhat short, wobbly kick.
The ball bounced inside the 20-yard line and Westbrook fielded it as Reese put a questionable block on Giants gunner David Tyree.
“I feel like I got clipped,” Tyree said.
Reese said it was close to a flag, but none was thrown.
Westbrook then broke through a wall of defenders quickly, leaving only two to beat. He outran Feagles to the sideline in front of the Giants’ bench and tiptoed along the sideline to get past a last-ditch tackle by Marcellus Rivers before scoring and leaving the crowd of 78,000 in stunned silence.
The boos came seconds later.
“At first I thought, `Where’s the flag?”’ Collins said. “Then I thought, `No way! No way! Someone is going to get him.”’
Referee Tom White gave the crowd a glimmer of hope when he announced the play was under review. It didn’t take long for White to decide that Westbrook did not step out of bounds.
“After I caught the ball, I saw a couple of guys blocking,” Westbrook said. “After that it was basically a foot race to the end zone.”
The gaffe was the latest by the Giants’ special teams. New York was eliminated in the playoffs by San Francisco because of bad snaps on field goals. It lost to Dallas on a botched squib kick earlier this season and a loss to Miami two weeks ago might be blamed on an injury to kicker Matt Bryant.
“It’s unbelievable,” Giants offensive tackle Chris Bober said. “We just keep finding ways to lose football games. You might call it bad luck, but we just aren’t finishing football games.”
The Giants have a history of doing that against the Eagles, starting with the famous fumble by Joe Pisarcik in 1978 when the Giants were running out the final seconds on the clock. Current Jets coach Herman Edwards picked up the loose ball and scored to give Philadelphia a 19-17 win.
Philadelphia also won a game in 1988 when defensive lineman Clyde Simmons scored on a blocked field-goal attempt in overtime. McNabb, who was 9-of-23 for 64 yards in this game, also stole a Monday night game in 2001 with a last-second touchdown pass.
“The way we stole the one out of here today stings a little bit more,” Reese said.
The Giants had a final chance to pull the game out after Collins hit Amani Toomer to get the ball to the Eagles 44-yard line with 72 seconds to play.
However, New York gained 6 yards on the next three plays and Bobby Taylor broke up a fourth-down pass to Shockey, sending New York to another excruciating loss.
This win puts the Eagles back in the division chase and leaves the Giants desperate after a third straight close loss.
“Statistically we are not where we want to be,” McNabb said. “But when you go 3-3 and put yourself in position to continue this thing and compete for the top, you can’t worry about what the statistics say.”
Brett Conway had a 39-yard field goal for the Giants, who had 339 yards intotal offense and controlled the ball for almost 36 minutes.
The Giants lost LG Rich Seubert with a broken right leg in the first quarter. … Michael Strahan had two sacks, giving him 101.5 in his career. He is the 21st player to reach that milestone since the league started keeping sacks as a statistic in 1982. … Westbrook has rushed for touchdowns in four straight games. He is the first Eagles back to do that since Ricky Watters in1996.