PHILADELPHIA — The Giants defense ran out of gas, and it made for a long drive back up the New Jersey Turnpike.
For three quarters on “Thursday Night Football,” coordinator Patrick Graham’s unit overachieved as it has all season.
And then what always happens to the Giants at Lincoln Financial Field — no matter who coaches and who plays in the game — happened: They gagged on a double-digit lead and lost, 22-21.
From the moment cornerback Logan Ryan broke up a fourth-down pass into the end zone to protect a 14-10 lead and flexed to the sparse crowd in the end zone, everything fell apart for the Giants defense. And that was after a 97-yard touchdown drive led by Daniel Jones added to the cushion.
It’s difficult to place blame for this collapse from a 21-10 lead solely on the defense, considering its survival of an absurd 44 Eagles offensive plays in the first half as the Giants were outdone 222-125 yards and 15-5 in first downs. The Giants offense could not muster any momentum, but the halftime scoreboard read a 10-7 lead for the Eagles.
After allowing touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half in five of the first six games, the defense came up big twice in that situation against the Eagles. Forcing a punt didn’t shut the door because Giants running back Dion Lewis fumbled, but buckling down to force a field-goal attempt paid off when the 29-yard kick sailed wide left.
The Giants sacked Wentz twice and created a second-quarter turnover in the end zone when future Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry intercepted a foolish pass fluttering into traffic.
When the Eagles drew to within 21-16, Wentz’s quarterback draw on the two-point conversion was stuffed to assure that the Eagles couldn’t force overtime with a field goal.
And none of it mattered when the Eagles gained 442 yards of offense.
Wentz directed two touchdown drives in the final six minutes, throwing a 3-yard touchdown to Greg Ward and an 18-yard touchdown to Boston Scott. Logan Ryan had a tough moment when he was flagged for defensive holding, turning a would-be third down into a first down.
It’s been abundantly clear through the first part of this season that if the Giants had any chance of making something of the season, then the defense — with only one player who has ever made it to a Pro Bowl (Leonard Williams) — had to carry the load. Injuries to Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard, and underproduction from other weapons guaranteed it.
A week ago, the defense secured the Giants’ first win, 20-19, by stopping a two-point conversion pass from Washington in the final minute.
This time, it was different.
The defense needed one more play.
Not Ryan holding to take away a would-be third down.
Or Jabrill Peppers losing sight of the ball on the winning touchdown.
Or a personal foul penalty committed by cornerback Corey Ballentine on special teams.
Or any of the handful of plays that turned this from a defensive gem into a defensive nightmare.