Never In Doubt

If there was any doubt the New York Giants rule the NFC East, the Super Bowl champions erased it Sunday night.

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Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes, Brandon Jacobs had two TD runs and the Giants held on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles 36-31 and further distance themselves from the pack in the NFL's toughest division.

The Eagles had the ball at their own 45 with 1:55 left, but Brian Westbrook was stopped by Chase Blackburn on fourth-and-1.

``It was exhilarating,'' Blackburn said of the clinching tackle.

The Giants (8-1) are two games ahead of the Washington Redskins and three in front of the Eagles (5-4) and Dallas Cowboys. New York is 3-0 against its division rivals, but has only one other win against an opponent with a winning record.

``It's great to win here,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. ``It reinforces everything we believe about team, supporting each other and finding a way to win the game.''

Perhaps the Giants' easy first-half schedule - their first eight opponents are a combined 27-44 - was a reason oddsmakers made the Eagles a three-point favorite.

Miffed by the prognosticators' pick, the Giants proved them all wrong. They did get help from the referees on two close calls in the second half.

Jacobs lost the ball at the goal line on his 2-yard TD run that made it 36-24. The Eagles challenged, but officials upheld the play.

The Giants went ahead 27-24 two plays after a reversed call gave them a first down at the Eagles 3. Manning's 17-yard pass to Kevin Boss on third-and-10 was initially ruled illegal because he appeared to release the ball from beyond the line of scrimmage. Replays showed Manning's back foot was behind the line, and Jacobs ran in from the 3 for the go-ahead score.

``I think the way the rule is written, it was worth taking a shot at it,'' said Manning, who urged Coughlin to challenge the call. ``If you have one toe on the line of scrimmage, then it's a legal pass. I thought it was worth the risk.''

The Eagles were surprised the play was overturned.

``I don't know what they were looking at,'' defensive tackle Mike Patterson said.

Donovan McNabb had three TD passes for the Eagles, but the Giants shut down Westbrook.

McNabb's 2-yard TD toss to Kevin Curtis on fourth down cut it to 36-31 with 5:30 left.

The defense stopped the Giants on the ensuing possession and the Eagles took over at their 14 with 3:14 and one timeout remaining. But they couldn't put together a winning drive.

Westbrook was stuffed on two straight plays after McNabb's 7-yard scramble set up a third-and-3 near midfield. McNabb didn't seem to agree with the playcalling on Philadelphia's final two plays.

``I want the ball, but the coaches felt we can run it for the yards,'' he said.

Westbrook was held to 59 total yards. The versatile halfback had at least 123 combined yards in six straight games against the Giants.

The Eagles took a 24-20 lead on McNabb's 7-yard TD pass to Hank Baskett on the opening drive of the third quarter. Baskett's reception on a fade pass was his second biggest catch this week. The third-year wideout became engaged to Kendra Wilkinson, who co-stars on ``The Girls Next Door'' as one of Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner's three live-in girlfriends in the E! reality series.

Manning led the Giants to three straight scoring drives after throwing an interception on the third play from scrimmage and New York built a 17-7 lead.

But a fumble by Jacobs helped the Eagles get back in it. Jacobs lost the ball while hurdling Asante Samuel as Chris Gocong delivered a hard hit. Patterson recovered it at the Giants 44.

McNabb hit Jason Avant over the middle for a 10-yard TD pass to cut it to 17-14.

Late in the second quarter, Sam Madison intercepted a poorly underthrown pass by McNabb and returned it 21 yards to the Eagles 14. That led to a 26-yard field goal by John Carney.

McNabb was sharp during the two-minute offense and David Akers nailed a 29-yarder to cut it to 20-17 at halftime.

The Eagles used a trick play to take a 7-0 lead after Patterson's interception set them up at the Giants 9. Patterson rumbled 21 yards after he picked off Manning's pass for his first career interception.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson scored on a 9-yard run, taking the snap out of a shotgun formation with McNabb lined up wide to the left. The Miami Dolphins rejuvenated the single wing this season, and it was the first time the Eagles used a variation of that gimmick offense.

Manning tossed a 17-yard TD pass to Plaxico Burress to tie it at 7. Burress beat safety Brian Dawkins, who covered the wideout because the Eagles sent a cornerback on a blitz.

Giants halfback Ahmad Bradshaw stripped Quintin Demps on the kickoff and Blackburn took it to the Eagles 13 after making the recovery. Philadelphia's defense tightened up and the Giants settled for a 27-yard field goal by Carney.

Manning's 1-yard TD pass to Boss gave the Giants a 17-7 lead.

The Eagles had the ball for 90 seconds in the first quarter, and just 20:50 overall.

Notes: Eagles LG Todd Herremans was benched for the first quarter a week after catching a TD pass against Seattle. Nick Cole started for Herremans. ... Vice president-elect Joe Biden sat in owner Jeffrey Lurie's suite. Pitcher Cole Hamels and left fielder Pat Burrell of the World Series champion Phillies participated in the coin flip. Hamels, the Series MVP, wore a No. 14 A.J. Feeley jersey. Burrell had on McNabb's No. 5. ... A holding penalty on Michael Johnson negated a 73-yard punt return by Domenik Hixon, but the Giants scored a TD on the drive.

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