One incredible 61-yard field goal from an anonymous rookie kicker changed everything.
The Giants season was destroyed and spiraled into dysfunction.
The Eagles season was placed on a fast track to an NFC East title and potential Super Bowl.
That’s the impact of the Giants’ 27-24 loss in Philadelphia the third week of the season on Sept. 24. It dropped the Giants to 0-3 and they would lose their first five before winning a game. They are now 2-8, the third worst record in the NFL.
The Eagles are 9-1, the best record in the NFL.
The Eagles were 1-1 coming off a tough loss in Kansas City and the confidence they gained from the victory over the Giants sent them on their current league eight-game winning streak, which is tied with the Saints for the longest current streak and one short of the franchise record.
Their 37-9 wipeout of the Cowboys on Sunday night gives them an almost insurmountable four-game lead on the 5-5 Cowboys and five-game lead on 4-6 Washington in the NFC East with just six games remaining.
What would have happened if the Giants had won that September game instead of losing a heartbreaker? Maybe they just would be 3-7 instead of 2-8. But maybe they would have gained motivation and confidence if they had won in overtime and strung together a bunch of victories instead of losing the next week to the Bucs in Tampa — once again on a field goal on the final play — and losing at home to the then-winless Chargers.
Maybe if the Eagles had lost that game, after blowing a 14-point lead over a team that could not score until the fourth quarter, their fans would have turned on them. Maybe if the Eagles started 1-2, the rumors about second-year coach Doug Pederson being in trouble would have escalated as well as the whispers that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was poised to mount a hostile takeover. Dissension could have taken up residence in South Philly rather than North Jersey.
Instead, the Eagles went to Los Angeles the following week to play the Chargers and the StubHub Center was overrun by transplanted Philly fans singing, “Fly, Eagles Fly.” After the first 10 games of the season, the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.
Now Schwartz’s work with the defense will make him a prime candidate for one of the head coach openings after the season. And now it’s the uncertain futures of Giants GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo that will be major story line in December.
The Giants went into the season with Super Bowl aspirations, but opening with losses to the Cowboys and Lions and scoring only 13 points sent up the red flag that something was terribly wrong. It looked even worse when they trailed 14-0 going into the fourth quarter in Philly. At that point, they had played 11 quarters and scored 13 points. Even so, the season was still salvageable.
The Giants exploded with three straight touchdowns to take a 21-14 lead, then led 24-21 with Odell Beckham scoring twice and fake peeing once. Each time, the Giants defense could not hold the lead. Remember what happened next: Brad Wing sent a punt soaring just 28 yards with 13 seconds left in regulation and the game even at 24.
The Eagles took over at their 38. On second down, Carson Wentz completed an 18-yard sideline pass to Alshon Jeffery with defenders Jackrabbit Jenkins and Eli Apple colliding. One second was left.
Jake Elliott, a fifth round pick of the Bengals who was beaten out by Randy Bullock, who once kicked for the Giants and Jets, came onto the field to try a 61-yard field goal.
“Can he hit this? This guy’s a super hero is he makes it,” Eagles QB Carson Wentz, mic’d up for the game by NFL Films, said after getting to the sideline as the Eagles special teams ran on the field.
Beckham stood in the end zone, a couple of feet inside the back line, ready to grab the ball and take off if the attempt fell short. The Eagles had their field goal protection team on the field — all big guys — and would be susceptible to a long run back by OBJ. He once returned a missed field goal 109 yards for LSU in 2013.
Wentz turned to linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill: “I’ll frickin’ give him my paycheck – I’ll give him my game check if he makes it.”
The ball sailed over the crossbar just inside the right upright.
In the 93-year history of the Giants, no kicker for them or their opponent had ever made a kick as far as 61 yards. It was the longest made field goal ever for the Eagles.
No word if Wentz paid up, but the bill would have been $97,798.
The kick was much more costly to the Giants.
Mychal Kendricks and Grugier-Hill carried Elliott off the field as Eagles fans celebrated as if it was the Super Bowl the Birds have yet to win. The Giants season was carried into oblivion.
Football is so often a game of momentum and if the Giants managed to head up the Jersey Turnpike after the game with their first victory of the season, I have little doubt they would have built on that by beating the Bucs and Chargers the next two weeks.
Instead at 0-3, OBJ’s decision to imitate a dog peeing, which required a rebuke from John Mara, became the narrative of his season that was cut short two weeks later when he broke his ankle.
Now as the Eagles are about to keep the streak alive of no NFC East teams repeating as division champs since they did it in 2003-04, it’s the Giants who are facing an offseason of decisions.
One game early in the season rarely has such a lasting impact like Eagles 27, Giants, 24, did two months ago, but Elliott’s kick quickly sent the Giants and Eagles in such different directions.
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