How many pass attempts would a two-time Super Bowl MVP throw against a 5–9 underdog in a potential playoff-clinching game?
For Eli Manning, a career-high 63 pass attempts Thursday night couldn’t beat the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants (10–5) failed to clinch a playoff berth while handing the Dallas Cowboys the NFC East title in a 24–19 loss in Philadelphia that should have many reconsidering New York’s bona fides.
Manning’s 63 attempts were not only the most of any Giants quarterback in history but also the most of any quarterback in the league this season. Only 13 other quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown at least 63 times in a game, and only five of them came away with victories.
On Thursday, by the time the Eagles had a 14–0 lead, Manning had thrown as many completions (1) for as many yards (1) as interceptions (1). On a short third-and-5, Manning threw into double coverage, much to the delight of Malcolm Jenkins, who returned it 34 yards for the second score of the game.
Manning would throw another one to Jenkins early in the fourth quarter before finishing the hat trick late in the game with a desperate throw. Of his 25 misses, there were a few drops (one ball went right through rookie Sterling Shepard’s hands for a gain of at least 20 yards) but no egregious letdowns in the passing game.
If Manning’s three picks are most troubling, and they should be, a close runner-up would be Giants coach Ben McAdoo’s offensive balance in the fourth quarter. New York was within a score throughout the entire final quarter but ran five rushing plays to 29 passing plays and only got three points to show for it. Paul Perkins and Rashad Jennings combined for 112 yards and 4.67 yards per carry on the night but could hardly get the ball in their chest as if New York was down three possessions.
Odell Beckham Jr. had his second game with at least 20 targets, and that was also the first of its kind in the NFL this season. He brought in 11 of those passes for a game-high 150 yards, while no Eagles wide receiver had more than two catches. Nelson Agholor led the way for Philadelphia with 47 receiving yards, including a rare 40-yard throw-and-catch from Carson Wentz that resulted in a touchdown for the stone-handed Agholor.
(An aside: Thursday night’s Color Rush uniforms—the last of the season—proved to us how much we yearn for throwbacks. The Giants’ all-white uniform harkened back to the Bill Parcells’s Super Bowl teams and had a clean, classy look to it. Meanwhile, the Eagles were relegated to their poor black uniforms rather than the ’80s Kelly green uniforms thanks to the NFL’s one-helmet rule.)
Wentz, who had to clear the concussion protocol in the second half, had an average night with 152 yards on 13-of-24 passing. His one touchdown throw was precipitated by the most controversial call of the evening.
At the risk of making every hit on Cam Newton a referendum, and further risking comparing a hit on a quarterback to Newton, the unnecessary roughness penalty Wentz drew midway through the second quarter was laughable. Rookie cornerback Eli Apple clearly pulled up as Wentz was going to the ground, and any contact between Apple and Wentz was incidental and to Apple’s chest.
But Wentz sold the hit and got the flag—the same flag that should have gone Newton’s way on Monday night against Washington before he flipped the ball at Trent Murphy and got a taunting call. The NFL may eventually find consistency on that call, but the Eagles got the benefit Thursday.
Twice the Eagles went for the win in a game where only pride was on the line for the home time. The first decision was an easy one—go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 late in the third quarter. Philadelphia didn’t get it, but the chip-shot field goal would have put them up just eight anyway. The second decision wasn’t as easy but Doug Pederson was there to win.
Pederson opted for a pass on third-and-5 with less than two minutes to play. A run play surely would have been stopped shy of the first down, but it would have forced Ben McAdoo to use his final timeout. Instead the pass fell incomplete and the Giants got the ball back with a minute and a half and a timeout left.
There’s little doubt, though, that Manning’s mistakes cost the Giants the game. His first interception resulted in points, the second killed momentum and the third sealed the game. His 16 interceptions this season are tied with Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler for second-most in the league behind Philip Rivers.
But as bad a loss as Thursday night was for the Giants, history offers hope. In 2007, Manning’s 20 interceptions led the league. He had another 16 in 2011 that was seventh-most in the NFL.
The Giants lost two games in December in both 2007 and 2011 before going on to win the Super Bowl that season. This was New York’s second loss of this December.
None of this guarantees them another Super Bowl. But the Giants are now in position for a wild card, and if recent history holds, they should like their chances from there.