What We Learned  

 

Giants fail to lock up playoff berth in loss to Eagles

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Eagles safety Terrence Brooks intercepted Eli Manning's 63rd pass of the game, staving off a last-minute New York Giants (10-5) comeback attempt in Philadelphia's 24-19 victory Thursday night. Here's what we learned in the kickoff to Week 16:

1. New York's loss clinches the NFC East title for 12-2 Dallas. That reality will come as welcome news for the Cowboys' Week 16 opponent: the Detroit Lions. Coach Jason Garrett has provided no reason to believe the Cowboys will rest key starters Saturday, but we've seen teams in similar situations play with less urgency. Even with Thursday's defeat, the Giants can secure a wild-card spot this weekend if the Lions, Packers, Buccaneers or Falcons lose.

2. Between Odell Beckham's week-in, week-out virtuosity and the rise of the Giants' stingy defense, Eli Manning's steep second-half decline has gone virtually unnoticed outside of the tri-state area. Reminiscent of his infamous bout with arm fatigue four years ago, Eli's passes have been diving at the feet of his receivers since late October. His utter inability to throw with authority beyond 15 yards has not only eliminated intermediate and deep passes from the offense, but has also led to more turnover worthy plays than any other quarterback this season. He started Thursday night's game 3 of 12 for 40 yards and a pick-six to Malcolm Jenkins and tossed two more wobbly interceptions en route to a franchise-record and career-high 63 pass attempts. Only the Browns and Rams have averaged fewer yards per game than the Giants since Week 7. Barring a magic elixir that restores Eli's waning arm strength to 2011 levels, the offensive woes aren't going away in the postseason.

3. The Giants' recent surge featuring eight victories in nine games has inspired lofty comparisons to the 2007 and 2011 editions that ran the table to host the Lombardi Trophy. Considering Manning's obvious limitations, a susceptible offensive line and a ground attack on pace for the franchise's lowest output since 1945, those visions are mere wishcasting. If there's a 21st century comparison to be made, it's the 2003 Carolina Panthers, with Odell Beckham playing the Steve Smith role as a game-breaking wideout and punt returner capable of carrying the offense on his shoulders in a scorching hot streak.

Eliminating angles like no other player in the NFL, Beckham plays like he believes he's going to take every catch to the house. With 11 receptions for 150 yards against the Eagles, Beckham (1,323) vaulted past T.Y. Hilton (1,248) and Julio Jones (1,253) for the league-lead in receiving yards. He's now tied with Randy Moss for the most 100-yard receiving games (19) in a player's first three seasons. Holiday season now belongs to Beckham, who averages 127.8 yards in 11 December games -- nearly 25 more than any other receiver since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

4. In the latest sign of the Eagles' anemic production at wideout, safety Malcolm Jenkins corralled as many Manning passes as any wide receiver caught from Carson Wentz. Jenkins, nose tackle Beau Allen and pocket-crashing defensive end Brandon Graham played starring roles for Philadelphia's defense. An egregious snub from the NFC Pro Bowl roster, Graham beat Giants right tackle Bobby Hart to the tune of three QB hits, four more hurries and several big stuffs in the running game.

5. Wentz returned from a late third-quarter concussion evaluation to lead the Eagles on a fourth-quarter field-goal drive. Although he has a bright future and continues to impress as an amazing escape artist in the pocket, the regression in his throwing mechanics has all but eliminated the deep ball from his arsenal. As evidenced by Eric Weddle's nullified interception last week and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's interception Thursday night, defensive backs are closing on his deeper passes because his delivery is so long. Dropping the ball below his waist on his windup also robs him of the zip he sported earlier in the season. It's a problem Wentz and the Eagles' offensive coaches will have to fix next offseason.

6. Although first-time Pro Bowler Landon Collins enjoyed another strong game, the Giants will have to monitor injuries to run-stuffer Damon Harrison and cornerback Eli Apple. Both players were forced from the game in the second half. Harrison has been the most dominant nose tackle in football this season, keying the defense's turnaround in the trenches.

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