Two eras in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles could come to an end at MetLife Stadium, and so could the postseason hopes of the NFC East-rival New York Giants.
The Eagles and Giants will close out their season series Sunday afternoon in what could be the final game of head coach Andy Reid. Appointed coach back in 1999 following a tumultuous 3-13 campaign under Ray Rhodes, Reid has registered a respectable 140-101-1 (.581) record with the Eagles and is rumored to be on his way out at season's end.
In what was supposed to be a promising season for Philadelphia turned out to be a complete disaster. A 4-11 record at this point of the season isn't what Reid and his players envisioned, but there's no escaping reality.
"We have to go out and play football and not think about that stuff," said Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who could be auditioning for 31 other teams when he steps under center against the Giants. "Just go out and win and let's enjoy the game. That's what Sunday is all about for us."
Vick, out since Nov. 11 with a concussion suffered versus the Dallas Cowboys, will lead the Eagles once again after rookie quarterback Nick Foles was placed on injured reserve with a broken right hand suffered in last week's 27-20 home loss to the hard-charging Washington Redskins. Vick is still under contract, but the Eagles could opt not to bring him back for the 2013 campaign. The strong-armed Vick, though, is just happy to be playing again.
"It���s great to know that you're going to have a chance to go out and play," Vick said.. "The one thing I never do is waiver or back down from my opportunity to go out there and get on the field, regardless of what has transpired throughout the season. I'm fully confident in myself and the guys around me have to go out there and put it all together for the last game and get a win for Andy."
The loyalty for Reid is unmatched and it's uncertain whether the longest tenured coach in the NFL will resume his duties next season. The 2012 campaign was a tough for one for Reid not only because of the poor record, but the death of his son, Garrett, during training camp. Players rallied around their coach and stormed out to a 3-1 record. However, a subsequent eight-game losing streak ended any aspirations of a Super Bowl run.
Philadelphia ended the slide with a last-second win at Tampa Bay on Dec. 9 and has dropped two straight games since to Cincinnati and Washington. Foles, perhaps the QB of the future in Philly, passed for 345 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and played the entire game with the hand injury. But now that the long-haired rookie out of Arizona is done for 2012, Vick will take back a job that was once his.
One positive sign in the loss to the Redskins was the return of running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy sustained a concussion in a lopsided defeat at Washington on Nov. 18 and returned Sunday to post 77 yards on nine carries. McCoy offered an insight on what he plans to do in the offseason to get better.
"I made myself a promise that I'm not even going to take that long of a break off, maybe two to three weeks and I'm back at it," McCoy said. "There's so many things you want to do better to help yourself and help the team out."
The Giants know a thing or two about help and will need plenty of it Sunday to continue their title defense. The four-time Super Bowl champions must defeat the Eagles, then hope Dallas, Minnesota and Chicago all lose.
New York opened defense of its title by winning six of the first eight games of the season, but something went awry from there.
"The last couple of weeks we really have played like crap and I don't think there's anything for us ... I saw some stuff about people saying we quit and things like that," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I don't think that's it. As a matter of fact, I know that's not it. When you watch the film you see guys hustling, but something is off and we have to try our best to find what it is."
Perhaps Tuck can take a look at himself and the rest of a defense that has allowed more than 20 points in five of the last seven games and 67 in the past two in losses against Atlanta (34-0) and Baltimore (33-14). In Sunday's drubbing at the hands of the Ravens, the Giants surrendered 533 yards of offense and allowed two players to run for more than 100 yards. Rookie Bernard Pierce posted 123 yards on 14 carries and stud Ray Rice had 107 on 24 touches.
Eli Manning was held under 200 yards for a second straight week, finishing 14- of-28 for 150 yards with a touchdown pass and no interceptions. He needs 260 passing yards to reach 4,000 for a fourth straight season and spoke with the media regarding the possible end to the 2012 campaign.
"I think we'll be focused and we'll be ready to play. It's the last game. We're football players, it's the last game of the regular season," Manning said at his locker. "This is our job. It doesn't matter if you're 0-15 or you're 15-0, you prepare and you play. You try to play at the highest level that you can. I've got great confidence, from just talking to the offensive guys, we're going to get after it. We're going to compete, we're going to prepare this week and we're going to plan to go out there and play our best. Whether it's our last game and if everything falls the way we want it to. Even if it is the last game, let's end it on a high note."
The Giants were edged by the Eagles in the first matchup back on Sept. 30 in the City of Brotherly Love, as Alex Henery's 26-yard field goal with 1:49 remaining in the game proved to the difference. Manning threw for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns with one INT, and owns 11 touchdown passes to three picks in the previous four meetings between the NFC East inhabitants. The Eagles were led by McCoy's 123 yards on 23 carries, while Vick connected on a 19-yard touchdown strike to DeSean Jackson.
Philadelphia has dominated the Giants lately, winning eight of the past nine encounters and five straight as the visitor.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Giants have to be cautious of Philadelphia's ground attack, which mainly consists of McCoy, rookie Bryce Brown, Dion Lewis and Vick. McCoy seems to be back at full strength after missing time with a serious concussion. Brown carried the ball just four times for five yards in the first meeting, but has since improved his game and shown what he can do with a few more touches.
Lewis sparingly gets a turn in the rotation, but makes the most of it when his number is called. Of course, Vick is still a dangerous threat out of the backfield and has some speed left despite being a seasoned veteran.
"Another running back in the backfield," Giants linebacker Michael Boley said of Vick. "He definitely adds the challenge of scrambling, getting out of the pocket, especially with the push that our guys get up front ... facing a running quarterback with our front kind of forces us to be more focused on containing the pass rush and not just going to get it."
Philadelphia probably will run much more than they did in the first meeting with Vick coming back for the first time in a while. Vick may have to knock some of the rust off early on to get that football feeling back. Usually a player has to hit someone or get hit to start focusing, and more likely than not Vick will get hit by that dangerous front line. Vick has won three of his last four starts in this series, while McCoy has posted three straight 100- yard performances (121.3 ypg in last three).
Manning is a student of the game and a highly cerebral player. There's no doubt he'll find a few weaknesses, if not all, in the Eagles' secondary. Manning may have struggled the past two games passing yards wise, which is a shock because the Giants have been down early and big in each.
New York has three dangerous receivers in Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon, who doesn't garner as much attention as the other two but did record 114 yards on six catches in the first game against the Eagles. Cruz had 109 yards and a score on nine catches and Nicks missed the game because of injury. Cruz has three straight 100-yard receiving games against the Eagles, compiling 347 yards and four TD receptions on 18 catches.
Eagles high-priced cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is one of those corners who has absorbed plenty of criticism throughout this disappointing season.
"It's hard to have answers. It's very hard to have answers. It's difficult to reflect on, too, especially because we came into this thinking that this was going to be such a different year," Asomugha said. "That's been the toughest thing, thinking about how it's played itself out."
The Eagles could be without two defensive pieces in rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks and rookie defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Both players suffered concussions versus Washington and must be cleared by the team's medical staff. Kendricks is a solid cover linebacker and both he and Cox are important in the run defense. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw seems to be on the mend after missing the Atlanta game and had 39 yards on nine carries last week.
Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson could share the load Sunday.
New York's postseason chances are hanging by a thread as are the Philadelphia careers of two iconic figures. Reid and Vick have been embraced by the fanbase, but the adoration for the former has dwindled severely the past few seasons. It's still unknown if Reid and Vick will return in 2013, and perhaps Vick could remain in midnight green if another coach is brought in. It's speculation, of course, but New York winning on Sunday is certain. Unfortunately, the chips won't fall where they may for the Giants to move on.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 17, Eagles 13