Eagles expose Giants' faults, Cowboys reignite question as NFC East race enters final stretch

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At the end, most of the Philadelphia Eagles fans didn't even bother to stick around to rub it in, leaving only a smattering of voices to taunt the beleaguered Giants with an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. Better to beat traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike than stay through the end of the Eagles' 48-22 dismantling of the Giants that clinched a playoff berth for Philadelphia and confirmed the world order of the NFC East. With the Eagles at 12-1 and scoring 35 or more points in each of their last three games, those fans know there are likely to be much more significant victories to celebrate.

"Eh, that's nice," said Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, who shrugged when asked about clinching a playoff spot. "We got way bigger goals and it's on to the next one. It's nice to come out here and play good on the road."

Read that quote and, if you didn't watch the game, you would think this was a routine win. It was not. It was a display of multi-faceted dominance. All four NFC East teams remain in the playoff chase, but the Eagles left little doubt that they are the division's -- and the NFC's -- preeminent team, with a balanced and explosive offense, an MVP caliber-quarterback who was in complete, mistake-free control throughout the day and a defense that boasts a devastating pass rush. They are playing their best football right now, which is certainly not what can be said for the Giants, Cowboys or Commanders.

If there was one play that illustrates how superior the Eagles were, it came when, of all times, Philadelphia faced fourth-and-7 from the Giants' 41-yard line. The Eagles were already leading 7-0 after a 14-play, 8-minute touchdown drive that slowly, methodically, pushed the Giants backward. This was the Eagles' very next possession, and it had started at their own 9-yard line and consumed 11 plays. But now Philly was in no man's land -- too far away to attempt a field goal, too close to punt. Receiver DeVonta Smith said later that quarterback Jalen Hurts checked to the play, which sent Smith screaming down the right side, getting past cornerback Darnay Holmes. Safety Julian Love came flying across the field, but he overran the pass, which dropped into Smith's hands, as Love ran by, leaving Smith an easy jog to the end zone.

"There's a point in time people said I couldn't throw the deep ball," Hurts said later. "I think that was a pivotal moment in the game, a big momentum swing in the game."

The victory keeps the Eagles as the NFC's top seed and two games ahead of the Cowboys in the division, after the Cowboys eked out a 27-23 victory over the one-win Houston Texans, who led for the entire second half, until the Cowboys scored the winning touchdown with 41 seconds left. The Cowboys did what good teams do -- they won when they were not at their best. But it will reignite the only question that really matters about the Cowboys: Can they be trusted when they get to the playoffs? How can a team that mauled the Vikings only a few weeks ago come so very close to losing at home to an opponent that has lost most of its recent games by double-digit margins?

At 10-3, though, the Cowboys are nearly certain to be in the playoff field. That is no longer nearly so clear for the Giants. 

They have been one of the surprises of the season, but the Eagles exposed the Giants in a way they haven't been all season. They were utterly overmatched, falling behind 21-0, unable to stop the Eagles on third down, unable to mount much of a rushing attack, unable to protect Daniel Jones. At 7-5-1, the Giants could certainly still grab one of the NFC's three wild-card spots. But they are, at their core, still very much a rebuilding team, with seismic personnel decisions to come, and many roster holes that will need to be filled. In the first half of the season, they played well over their heads. They were well-coached, and they were opportunistic, keeping every game close and capitalizing on every chance to seize a victory. But that 7-2 start obscured the Giants' reality. If opponents can stop the run -- a banged-up Saquon Barkley had just 9 rushes for 28 yards -- the Giants have no sustainable passing offense to rely on. The offensive line is still leaky and thin (Jones was sacked four times). And while the defense has kept the Giants in most games, it has been repeatedly undermined by injuries and inconsistency. It gave up 253 yards rushing to the Eagles. 

The Giants are 1-4-1 in their last six games, and they seem to be finding their level. They are likely not as good as their early record was, and not as bad as their record in recent games. Next week's contest against the Commanders, who are also 7-5-1 but are 6-1-1 in the last two months, will determine exactly where that level is and if it is high enough to get into the playoffs. Washington could only muster 20 points its last time out -- a tie with the Giants -- but should be well rested coming off a bye.

Coach Brian Daboll was asked what the loss to the Eagles said to him about where the Giants are in relation to some of the best teams in the league. 

"We got beat handily," he said. "It was 48 to whatever it was. They're a good football team. Give them a lot of credit. Got to get back to work."

For the Giants, that work is certain to continue in the offseason. For the Eagles, the offseason looks unlikely to start for quite a while.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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