- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. | Moments after their season ended Sunday, New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said describing the locker room as being in a state of shock was a bit harsh.

But center Shaun O’Hara thought it was too mild.

“Shock would be an understatement,” he said of the Giants’ 23-11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC divisional playoff game, denying them the chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. “We got rest, we got somewhat healthy, but it didn’t work out and it’s a bitter pill to take.”

The loss was bitter because it came at home, an advantage the Giants earned by going 12-4, because the defeat came to a division rival and because New York squandered numerous opportunities

The sixth-seeded Eagles, in the NFC East cellar when they were 5-5-1, won for the sixth time in seven weeks and will play Sunday at Arizona for a berth in the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia, the first No. 6 seed in the NFC to defeat the top seed, will be making its fifth title game appearance since 2001.

“It was a straight up NFC East game,” Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson said. “A true battle.”

The work of Patterson and the Philadelphia defense stopped the Giants at several key junctures.

“We had chances, and that’s what is disappointing,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “We had opportunities to score a couple of touchdowns and take this game away.”

Those missed opportunities included settling for (and missing) field goals and an inability to sustain momentum.

After Ahmad Bradshaw returned the opening kickoff to the Philadelphia 35, the Giants only got a 22-yard field goal from John Carney out of it.

When an intentional grounding penalty on Donovan McNabb resulted in a safety and cut the Eagles’ lead to 7-5, the Giants stalled on the ensuing possession, and Carney was wide right from 46 yards. Two interceptions by the defense ended with only two field goals.

Carney missed from 47 yards after a third-quarter drive that included a 34-yard pass from Manning to Domenik Hixon.

And the Giants committed three turnovers and went 3-for-13 on third down.

“We did some things very well but certainly not enough,” Coughlin said. “Once again, the inability to score touchdowns inside the ‘green zone’ [30-yard line] was quite evident. We were there enough times to get it done, but quite frankly we needed to score touchdowns to separate ourselves, but that didn’t happen.”

Philadelphia’s offense was stuck in neutral for much of the first half, gaining only 34 yards on the initial five drives. But McNabb pushed the Eagles ahead 10-8 at halftime with an expertly executed two-minute drill - he was 6-for-9 passing (not counting a spike) for 54 yards - to set up David Akers’ 25-yard field goal.

The Giants took an 11-10 lead on Carney’s 36-yard kick, but the Eagles answered with a 58-yard drive. The Eagles’ defense stopped New York twice on fourth down during the final quarter to help seal the win.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first game in league history to finish with a 23-11 final score.

While McNabb was efficient (22-for-40 for 217 yards), Manning struggled, going 15-for-29 for 169 yards and two interceptions. More problematic was him just missing on several throws to open receivers.

The Giants now enter the offseason declining to say their offensive production went south when receiver Plaxico Burress accidently shot himself.

“I don’t think that had a whole lot to do with it,” Coughlin said. “Those are questions that have been asked since Day One. The fact of the matter is Plaxico [was] not out there.”

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