Can Giants survive without Burress? Effort vs. Eagles leaves doubt

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Let's get right to it, what the loss of receiver Plaxico Burress meant in the Eagles-Giants matchup on Sunday from an Eagle defender old, an Eagle defender new.

From 13-year safety Brian Dawkins.

From rookie safety Quintin Demps.

Dawkins: "Listen, I don't mean to take anything away from the rest of their guys or that receiving group, but not having Plaxico out there meant we could funnel our defense in different ways and force the ball more to where we wanted it to go. We were able to take our chances in man coverage on the outside and get nasty with pressure on the inside. You can do everything right with Plaxico and he is 6-5. He can make up for any advantage you create by simply mauling and out-jumping you. He makes you back up and back off. Did it make a difference? Absolutely."

Demps: "We looked at the film from the last time we played them and felt our defense played a little too soft. We were going to be more aggressive this time with or without Plaxico in the game. With him out, it was easier to be aggressive. We loaded up the box and shut down their running game. We won in third-down defense. We tackled well, which is critical when you play the Giants. We have been searching for ourselves. I think we've found our way now."

So, the Giants will swear that the loss of Burress should not be overblown, but the Eagles were chatting something quite different after Eagles 20, Giants 14 on Sunday at Giants Stadium.

And the Eagles should know. They allowed 36 points to Burress and the Giants in a Week 10 loss at Philadelphia. But their defense did not allow a single Giants point until 16 seconds remained in this game. The Eagles limited the Giants to 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third downs and stuffed the Giants on each of their three fourth-down attempts. They held the Giants to 88 yards rushing. To no completion of 20 or more yards.

Think about that.

Eli Manning threw 27 passes and did not complete one for more than 19 yards.

Sure, Domenik Hixon started in place of Burress and dropped an early, long bomb that might have changed things for the Eagles, for the Giants. But the Giants had plenty more chances.

Nothing clicked.

Burress, suspended for the season after being saddled with gun charges from a nightclub incident where he accidently shot himself in the thigh, probably watched this game and grimaced. He was missed. And linebacker Antonio Pierce, who was involved in the Burress incident, started and played an anxious game. Too anxious. Twice the Eagles took advantage of his too-eager pursuit on cutback efforts for touchdowns, both by running back Brian Westbrook. Those scores -- a 30-yard run, a 40-yard catch -- were the icing for Philadelphia. The center of it all was 41 runs called by the Eagles that led to 144 rushing yards and a dominating advantage in possession time (34:54 to 25:06).

"A great game plan and great execution of it," said Giants linebacker Justin Tuck, who blocked a field goal attempt and saw teammate Kevin Dockery return it 71 yards for a score to end the first half.

Though the Eagles had dominated, they led only 10-7 at halftime.

"In that third quarter," added Tuck, "we didn't do enough to get off the field. We didn't play our style on defense or on offense. A lot of people will point to the Plaxico incident, his loss and the distractions of it all last week. That's fair. We lost."

It was the Giants' first home loss. Their first divisional loss in nearly a year. Their first loss to the Eagles in the last four matchups. Yet, they clinched the NFC East when Dallas lost at Pittsburgh.

The Giants employed plenty of two tight-end formations. Amani Toomer (two catches) was hardly used. Receiver Steve Smith had a couple of crucial drops. No Giants receiver caught more than four passes. With no deep threat established by the Giants, they had to do everything the long way, the hard way on offense.

And the Eagles defense loves that.

"Whenever we can make you one-dimensional, when we can stop your run game and force you to pass, that's tough to do against our defense when we know it's coming," Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel said. "Of course that's not the same offense without Plaxico. And we were ready and confident we could handle well with what they have left."

That is the concern for the Giants.

As they go off to Dallas next, return home to play Carolina and finish the regular season at Minnesota, they face three playoff-caliber teams that will employ the same defensive tactics.

The challenge for the Giants in those three games is to develop a deep passing threat, whether it's Hixon or Sinorice Moss or Toomer or whoever. This Giants offense has been built with the fear on the outside of the home-run ball and how that backs off defenders and opens running and passing lanes for all. The offense has to find a way to recreate that or reinvent itself.

And 13 games in, that is mighty hard to do.

The Eagles' offensive linemen won their blocking battles and the Eagles' defensive linemen won their matchups, and overall for Philadelphia it was a satisfying day against a team, a franchise, that was fresh from a week of turmoil. Those 21-mph winds howling through the stadium made things plenty difficult for the Giants offense.

But the Eagles and quarterback Donovon McNabb looked comfortable and at home.

And alive (7-5-1) with games left at home against Cleveland, at Washington and at home against Dallas. After losses to each team in the division, this was the Eagles' first NFC East victory.

"I thought both lines, offensive and defense, just played their hearts out," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "The guys worked hard, pushed through the ups and downs, and we're getting healthier. All those things are important. You're going to have some highs and lows, and you can talk about them, but you've got to go out there and execute the way they're executing. I'm proud of them."

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