Giants playing spoiler against Eagles will have to do for now

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The muscle memory survives. So there is that. At halftime, Michael Strahan had tugged a few heartstrings and boiled up a few vats of adrenaline by exhorting the faithful at MetLife Stadium with an old standard: “STOMP THEM OUT!”

Now, at the end of this blightful football game, as November’s teeth began to give way to December’s howl, those fans were exhorting the Giants’ defense one last time. The Eagles should have been buried long before with their quarterback, Jalen Hurts, manning the shovel and moving the dirt.

But they weren’t buried. They were at the Giants’ 27-yard line. There were 37 seconds left. The Eagles have figured out so many agonizing ways to torment the Giants through the years. The folks on their feet, the ones lifting their voices to the slate-gray sky, they begged the Giants here: Not now. Not this time. Not today. Not against them.

And on fourth down, Hurts’ last butterfly of the day bounced off the fingertips of Jalen Reagor in the shadow of the goal line. The roar doubled. The thunder trebled. The final score was 13-7, and the game film will not be forwarded to Canton; if there is a merciful God, it will be delivered directly to an incinerator. But it was a win. It counts.

“We knew this game would come down to the end,” said Giants safety Julian Love, who’d made a big play on the Eagles’ penultimate drive, getting his hands on the ball after Dexter Lawrence had knocked it loose. “We were fired up this week. We were ticked off and we wanted people to see that this week.”

For a few stolen minutes, it didn’t matter that all the Giants truly accomplished was to put a serious dent in the Eagles’ playoff hopes. Now, that’s never a bad thing around here, especially given the Eagles’ history here, especially given their shenanigans in the final week of last season.

But there’s really no fun in being a spoiler. There’s a limited amount of fun in a 3-7 team improving to 4-7 on a day when a 5-6 team falls to 5-7, no matter what the uniforms look like. Giants-Eagles on a bone-chilling day in November is supposed to have stakes, attached to it. It’s supposed to have consequences.

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And having Strahan steal the show at halftime really only served to remind everyone what’s missing around here. In truth, Strahan’s most shining moment probably came toward the end of his speech, after he’d thanked the Mara and Tisch families for bringing him to New York, which automatically triggered boos from the crowd since there are no easier targets in the city right now than the Giants’ co-owners.

Strahan chided the fans for that, then crowed: “We will be back! We will be up again! I guarantee that!”

That melted the boos, revived the cheers, and recalibrated what had been a mostly ornery gathering. If you’re going to spend an afternoon in the cold, you might as well see a win, right?

They saw a win. They saw the Giants’ offense do just enough under its new proprietorship. They saw the defense force four turnovers. They saw Hurts give away six points with killer interceptions inside the red zone. They saw the Eagles make the puzzling choice to abandon a running game that was chewing the Giants to pieces — Philly outgained the Giants on the ground, 208-70 — at the most inexplicable times.

“We made a lot of plays down the stretch,” Giants coach Joe Judge said. “All three phases.”

Love talked about wanting to win a game “to represent the community — a tough, gritty community” and as the people left the stadium and flooded the Turnpike the muscle memory was fresh, and it was real. Winning a game always beats the alternative. Beating the Eagles always makes Sunday dinner taste a little bit better.

Maybe it’ll take until they pick up the newspaper Monday morning, look at the standings, see that they’re still near the bottom of the entire NFC, before reality will hit them in the jaw. It remains inexcusable that the Giants are playing for consolation prizes before the calendar even hits Dec. 1. Nobody wants to become perennial expert at the role of spoiler.

For now, for this season, for this game, against this detested rival, it would have to do.

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