Giants fail to earn playoff bid in loss to Eagles, as Cowboys clinch No. 1 seed and NFC East

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Realistically, the New York Giants losing a late-season game won’t hinder the team’s ability to make the playoffs given the many Week 16 possibilities that exist to bump them in.

And historically, a late-season loss is no big deal for the feast-or-famine Giants, with Week 15 setbacks to the Washington Redskins in both of their Super Bowl seasons in the past decade proving that.

So why does the 24-19 loss to the Eagles on Thursday feel like a missed opportunity? The Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys twice this season but let their chances to win the division slip through their fingers with this loss. The Cowboys also now are the top seed in the NFC and have clinched home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs as a result.

The Giants had their chances on the final Thursday night game of the 2016 season, driving deep into Philadelphia territory three times in the final five minutes down one score. But they settled for a surprising field goal on the first one, were stopped on fourth down on the other and intercepted on the third in the waning moments. The 10-5 Giants now must wait for help to get into the playoffs, although it easily could happen by virtue of other teams losing as early as Saturday afternoon.

Despite Odell Beckham Jr.’s best effort — he caught 11 passes for 150 yards and did everything in his power to rally the team back from a 21-6 deficit — the Giants couldn’t finish the game against the Eagles, who were eliminated from the postseason a week ago. Having a replay go against them and a missed pass interference call on fourth down in the final three minutes didn’t help, but the Giants shot themselves in the foot earlier in the game.

Eagles rookie QB Carson Wentz was shaky at times and was knocked out of the game briefly to be tested for a concussion. But he also turned in a few big plays, and the Eagles pulled off the upset a week after they were eliminated from the postseason.

The short-term answer is that this game isn’t all that significant to the Giants, who needed a lot to happen to take down the Cowboys for the division. But the down-the-road question: Is having the thrilling, breathtaking Beckham — perhaps the greatest playmaker in the game today — enough to compensate for a flawed team on nights when New York’s defense doesn’t dominate? Strangely, their best hopes might lie in a playoff rematch against those same Cowboys, a third meeting that almost feels inevitable.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., left, bailed out Eli Manning and the New York Giants against the Philadelphia Eagles. (AP)
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. bailed out Eli Manning and the New York Giants against the Philadelphia Eagles. (AP)

The Eagles, buoyed by the return of right tackle Lane Johnson, marched seven plays and 78 yards on their first possession to score a touchdown against a Giants defense that had allowed only one in their past nine quarters. Darren Sproles scampered 25 yards, sprung by a beautiful block from Johnson and it was 7-0.

It was a tough night for Eli Manning. Three plays after the Sproles TD, Manning threw a terrible interception into traffic, and safety Malcolm Jenkins ran it back 34 yards for a pick-6. And just like that, the Eagles — who had scored 39 points in the previous 14 first quarters — were up 14-zip less than seven minutes into the game.

Manning finished the game with 356 pass yards but did so on a career-high 63 attempts, nine more than he’s ever had in a regular-season game, and threw three picks. He started out the game 3-for-12 with the pick-6 as the Giants got in the early hole. He also missed chances to score touchdowns with poor passes in the first half and threw two crippling INTs in the fourth quarter. Manning has six multi-interception games this season and the most (59) of any QB since 2004.

Don’t be fooled by the high passing total — he had a fairly rough night. It has been a poor season overall, even by the uneven Manning standards. Can he crank up the magic, like he did in 2007 and 2011 seasons, in the playoffs?

The Giants’ defense wasn’t bad Thursday, allowing 17 points on offense and 287 total yards and it tightened up after the early TD drive. But it might need to perform at Beckham-like levels to overcome all the Giants’ shortcomings, which, oddly, include their two-time Super Bowl-winning QB.

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Eric Edholm

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