EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -There are probably a dozen reasons the Eagles beat the New York Giants on Sunday, including the most basic in any athletic contest: Philadelphia played better.
The world at large probably will accept only one: Plaxico Burress.
Burress, of course, did not play Sunday and most likely will never play for the Giants again after accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a New York club on Nov. 29. He was suspended by the team and faces gun charges in a New York court.
Was that why the Giants lost after seven straight wins and 11 victories in their first 12 games?
``No!'' screamed the Giants.
Yes, said a good portion of the media, most notably one national television gentleman who announced to coach Tom Coughlin that the Eagles had not once double-teamed one of New York's receivers. Coughlin, who engaged the man in a somewhat spirited debate, would certainly have been forgiven if he had said: ``I'll have to look at the tape before I tell you that.''
mance of Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress when he shot himself, and who spent last week answering questions from both the New York police and (probably more difficult), media of all varieties.
For example, on the first play of the second quarter with the Eagles leading 3-0, Eli Manning dropped back and lofted a ball perfectly into the hands of Domenik Hixon, Burress' replacement. Hixon was behind the Philadelphia secondary 50 yards downfield.
He dropped it.
Whether it would have been a touchdown or not we'll never know, but it certainly would have put New York in scoring position.
Late in the first half, as the Eagles were driving into field goal range, Pierce was called for two penalties: delay of game and pass interference. In the fourth quarter, the Giants middle linebacker and defensive leader was caught in single coverage on Brian Westbrook and Westbrook burned him for a 40-yard touchdown reception.
``I thought we had a good week of practice despite what everyone is going to say,'' Pierce said after the game. ``It was just a bad game.''
In fact, if this game had taken place two weeks ago, no one would have mentioned distractions. Everyone would have just taken the result as another example of how hard it is to beat a team twice in a tough division.
day rest. Moreover, Philadelphia had lost to New York at home just a month ago, and is more familiar with its NFC East rival than perhaps any other team - the two basically play the same defense. Thus, the Eagles presented some new wrinkles the Giants couldn't solve.
Some other reasons to disregard the distraction theory:
-The Giants, with seven straight wins, were due to lose, just as they had when they threw in a clunker and were badly beaten by Cleveland, currently 4-9. The Eagles, who came in at 6-5-1 on the cusp of playoff contention, were by far the more desperate team. Even after the loss, the Giants were using ``when'' in talking about the playoffs, not ``if.''
-The Giants don't play very well at home when the wind blows and they don't run well. Last year, one of their worst games before their Super Bowl run was a home loss in the wind to another division opponent, Washington.
-When Westbrook and Donovan McNabb are playing well, they are hard to stop, especially when their offensive line is moving the Giants' defensive front. New York made some defensive plays early in the game but very few late - at one point Philadelphia converted 12-of-14 third-down attempts and held the ball for 11 minutes, 42 seconds in the third quarter, when the Giants had the wind in their favor, to 3:18 for New York.
al play of the first half, The Giants got a blocked field goal by Justin Tuck that Kevin Dockery returned 71 yards for a touchdown, turning what could have been a 13-0 Philadelphia lead into 10-7. ``That was what I was looking for. ... We had a chance. We didn't do anything with it,'' Coughlin said.
The bottom line?
Maybe just another upset in a league that emphasizes the motto ``on any given Sunday.'' Or maybe that should be mixed in with what was unquestionably a tough week.
The truest test will come down the road.
``It's a great story,'' defensive end Matthias Kiwanuka replied to one of the many interrogators who posed the word ``distraction'' to him.
``Our story is that we didn't execute.''

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