It's nearly Christmas and the New York Giants are somehow still just as confusing as Westworld.
They started the year 2-3, but responded by ripping off wins in eight of their next nine games -- including wholly impressive outings against the Cowboys and the Lions in their past two games. That late-season run is the reason why the Giants entered Thursday night's game against the Eagles with a chance to 1) clinch a playoff spot and 2) apply some pressure on the Cowboys in the NFC East.
Instead, they lost. On Thursday night, the already eliminated Eagles (6-9) knocked off the Giants, 24-19, which means the Cowboys officially captured the NFC East and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Despite the loss, the Giants (10-5) are still sitting pretty in the standings. They're still likely to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. There's no need to sound the alarms. With that being said, there's really no way at all anyone can predict what will happen to the Giants in the next couple weeks.
There's the negative side -- the side we saw Thursday -- which indicates that the Giants are an ordinary team hindered by inconsistent quarterback play and the lack of a pass rush. Against the Eagles, Eli Manning threw three picks with one going for six in the other direction. The offense settled for four Robbie Gould field goals. Defensively, they failed to sack Carson Wentz.
And then there's the positive side, which indicates that nobody should want to play the Giants in January. As previously mentioned, the Giants are likely playoff bound, which should terrify the entire NFC and ... well, the New England Patriots. Because as the Patriots certainly know, Playoff Eli Manning can conquer just about anything through his power of escaping inescapable sacks and placing the ball in the absolute perfect spot down the sideline.
The defense is solid. The Giants defense actually allowed only 17 points Thursday night -- without Janoris Jenkins. After getting bulldozed on their first defensive series, they stiffened. They used a goal-line stand to give their offense a chance in the fourth quarter, preventing the Eagles from taking a two-score lead. When Manning turned that possession into a turnover, they forced the Eagles to kick a field goal, which -- again -- kept them within striking distance. And when the Giants needed another stop trailing by five late in the game, they got that stop. Over and over again, they got the stops they needed. They played well enough to win.
But they lost, because of their offense. Whether you believe in the Giants this January is going to come down to how you feel about Manning. Will he be the quarterback the Patriots can't dodge -- the same quarterback who showed up a week ago in a victory against the Lions? Or will he be the quarterback the Eagles saw on Thursday night -- the quarterback who commits mind-numbingly awful mistakes?
I'll say this much: I'll never bet against Playoff Eli.
As for the Eagles ... well, their season is already over. But props to Doug Pederson for getting his players ready to take down a superior team. On Thursday night, all they had to play for was a chance to be the spoiler. And they did a damn fine job. Here are six more things to know from the Eagles' victory:
Bad Eli, Good Eli
A week ago, in a victory against the Lions, Manning experienced one of his best games of the season, completing 71.4 percent of his passes, throwing two touchdowns and no picks, and posting a 115.3 passer rating. But Good Eli did not show up Thursday night.
The beginning belonged to Bad Eli. He threw a pick-six on the Giants' second drive and doomed their next drive by bouncing a ball to his open receiver.
Manning Face, Part I:
But after the Giants' third series, Good Manning was activated.
Unfortunately for the Giants, even though their quarterback woke up, they settled for two field goals in the early going while the Eagles found the end zone three times. Trailing 21-6 late in the second quarter, Manning finally crossed the threshold.
That was Sterling Shepard's eighth touchdown, by the way. He's a rookie.
But Bad Manning reappeared late in the game. After the Giants' defense stood its ground on the goal line, forcing a turnover on downs at the 2-yard line, the Giants' offense, trailing 21-16, took over with a chance to steal the lead.
They made it as far as their own 37, which is where Manning threw his second pick of the game to Jenkins.
Manning Face, Part II:
HO HO HO ELI SANTA GOT YOU AN INTERCEPTION pic.twitter.com/kSiDX0eTdj— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) December 23, 2016
That pick led to a field goal. And so, the Giants trailed by a touchdown and two-point conversion with roughly eight minutes to go. Could Manning make up for his two mistakes, which spotted the Eagles 10 points?
Not immediately. The Giants settled for a field goal. But -- again -- the defense held. And Manning was given a chance, in a five-point game, to orchestrate a winning drive.
It ended up coming down to a fourth-and-1 at Eagles 32-yard line, which became a fourth-and-6 after a false start. Manning's pass, intended for Shepard, fell incomplete due to some physical coverage by Nolan Carroll. It was a catchable pass and it very well could've been ruled pass interference (more on that later), but it went uncalled.
Manning ended up getting one more opportunity after the Giants burned two of their timeouts and forced a punt. It ended predictably: He threw his third pick of the game in the final moments.
That interception came on his 63rd (!) attempt of the game. He completed 38 passes for 356 yards (5.7 YPA) and a 61.3 passer rating.
Odell Beckham: Fastest to 4,000 yards
Per usual, Odell Beckham was awesome. He snagged 11 passes for 150 yards. He consistently found ways to gain separation.
Take a look:
By the way, Beckham tied an NFL record for reaching 4,000 receiving yards in 42 career games.
Odell Beckham Jr. reached 4,000 career receiving yards in his 42nd game, tying HOF'er Lance Alworth for the fastest to 4,000 in NFL history pic.twitter.com/IhxkVR0czr— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 23, 2016
Remember when his critics were worried about Beckham being a distraction because of that kicking net "incident"?
Here's a better question: Is there a good reason why he isn't getting any MVP love?
Carson Wentz's development check
After a brief sizzling start to the season, Carson Wentz has often looked like the rookie he still is, which is understandable considering he played college ball at North Dakota State and wasn't even supposed to begin the season as the starter. Thursday night, Wentz's 15th career game, went as expected.
He showed some good and some awful.
Let's start with the bad. In the second quarter, he made a nice play with his legs to escape pressure, but he negated that play making ability with his decision to chuck the ball downfield.
It's also worth pointing out that the only reason he had to scramble like a madman was because how he navigated the pocket at the onset of the play. Footwork matters.
So that play all comes about because the first time Wentz has to move his feet he breaks into a sprint. Can't subtly move left and step up. pic.twitter.com/c5DHTtCa8V— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) December 23, 2016
OK, some of the good good: He hit Nelson Agholor for a 40-yard touchdown. It was an easy throw, but a touchdown is a touchdown.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Wentz dodged the Giants' pass rush and picked up a first down with his legs.
Big-time play in a big-time moment, as the Eagles held a five-point lead at the time. That drive resulted in a field goal, which handed them an eight-point advantage.
Wentz went 13 of 24 for 152 yards (6.3 YPA), one touchdown, one pick, and a 70.1 rating. He added 27 yards on the ground.
He's still a work in progress.
Three costly calls against the Giants
The Giants got screwed by the officials three times.
The first mistake occurred in the first half when Wentz tried to scramble to pick up a first down. Short of the marker, Wentz slid feet first. Giants cornerback Eli Apple was unable to hold up and bumped Wentz.
Fast forward to the third quarter, when the Giants forced a stop -- rather, they thought they forced a stop until the officials flagged Olivier Vernon for roughing Wentz. It looked clean, but it resulted in a free first down.
The Giants ended up forcing a turnover on downs, though, stuffing the Eagles on the goal line. Still, that flag hurt the Giants' field position; they were forced to start at their own 2-yard line after the goal-line stand.
And then there's the final controversial decision. This time, the Giants needed the officials to throw a flag, but they didn't get one. On fourth-and-6 with less with two minutes remaining, Manning targeted Shepard near the left sideline. The pass fell incomplete as Shepard couldn't haul in the catchable pass due to Carroll's physical coverage.
It definitely looked like pass interference could've been called.
It wasn't. The Giants ended up getting one more chance, but with only one timeout in their back pocket, their odds of reaching the end zone were slim.
Lane Johnson was missed
Lane Johnson missed the Eagles' past 10 games due to his PED suspension. He returned Thursday night.
Man, did the Eagles miss him. On their opening drive, which covered 78 yards on seven plays, they ran directly behind him on multiple occasions. Ryan Mathews picked up 10-plus yards on the first of those carries. On the last play of the drive, Darren Sproles found the end zone.
Johnson cleared the way.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Eagles racked up 47 yards on three running plays to the right side on that first series. So yeah, Johnson is a clear difference maker for the Eagles and they definitely could've used him before their postseason hopes faded.
The Giants will wrap up the regular season in Washington. By the time that game rolls around, they might've already secured the fifth seed in the NFC. They merely need Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay or Atlanta to lose this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Eagles will finish the season by playing host to the Cowboys.