EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the last two years, this was rivalry scripted by Alfred Hitchcock, a contest played out on a stage in the Twilight Zone.
For two straight years, the Philadelphia Eagles found cruel an unusual ways to inflict ignominious defeat on the New York Giants.
There was a blocked field-goal attempt that Clyde Simmons ra in for a game-winning touchdown to end overtime in 1988. There was the phantom touchdown officials awarded Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham last year when replays showed he hadn't scored. There was the surrealistic 92-yard punt Cunningham boomeranged a year ago to get the Eagles off the hook just when the Giants were poised for the kill.
Last night, though, the Giants planted a ghost of their own i Buddy Ryan's closet.
On a night when Lawrence Taylor shrugged off a 44-day holdou to register three sacks, when Phil Simms rebounded from a shaky first half to throw for two touchdowns, it was left to the littlest Giant to end the Eagles' four-game torment.
It was Dave Meggett's time to shine. Again.
Meggett, the 5-foot-7 scatback from Towson State, broke 68-yard punt return for a critical touchdown last night as the Giants upended the Eagles, 27-20, before 76,202 at Giants Stadium.
"He made big plays for them all last year," Eagles coach Rya said with grudging admiration. "We talked about him last night and this morning, how we were going to tackle him.
"We tried to kill him instead of drag him down, and he goes 10 yards for a touchdown."
What was one man's nightmare was another man's redemption Meggett, a third-down specialist when he isn't returning kicks, had dropped a first-half pass from Simms inside the Eagles' 35 that would have gone for a touchdown.
Except that Meggett didn't exactly see it as redemption.
"It was a play that happened, a bad play," he said of the drop. " lost it in the lights for one second. I put my hands up too short and didn't watch it into my hands.
"But I didn't try to make up for it."
Meggett's muff was the epitome of the first half for the Giants. " was pretty torn up over that," Simms said, laughing, 'but I figured we'd have other opportunities."
Simms was an ineffectual 8-for-17 in the first half, when th Giants fell behind 10-6 (typically, the Eagles' lone touchdown came on a halfback pass, from Keith Byars to Anthony Toney).
After Meggett returned the second-half kickoff 28 yards, Simm sent the Giants on a 70-yard, nine-play scoring drive. It ended with a 12-yard touchdown flip to rookie Rodney Hampton, who took a short pass along the sideline and dove over cornerback Eric Allen to reach the end zone.
That put the Giants on top, 13-10, and set the stage for Meggett, who went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Four plays later, he fielded a 46-yard punt from Jeff Feagles on his own 32, veered right and then cut up field through a mass of Eagles.
Terry Hoage and Ricky Shaw missed tackles in the crowd. The Meggett eluded Feagles and tightroped his way down the sideline for the score. In less than two minutes, the Giants wiped out a four-point deficit and opened a 10-point lead.
"Meggett's return was the turning point of the game," Giant linebacker Pepper Johnson said. "He uses everything he can when returning punts. He's a tremendous asset."
"It was a good pick-me-up," said Simms, who completed seve of 10 for 112 yards in the second half to finish 15-for-27 for 149 yards.
Simms beat a blitz with a picture-perfect 41-yard touchdow pass to Mark Ingram in the fourth quarter to make it 27-10. The Eagles cut it to seven with an 86-yard touchdown drive and a 68-yard field-goal drive, and got off one last-gasp pass by Cunningham that was intercepted by Greg Jackson. But it was too little, too late.
As inspirational as Meggett was, Taylor put the exclamatio point in his contract holdout when he sacked Cunningham three times ("A couple of sacks I fell into," he admitted) and made seven tackles.
How significant was Taylor's return?
"It was like killing a gnat with a sledgehammer," Johnson said "Having L.T. is an extra plus. It gives us more confidence and the defense can play even tougher."
The Giants threw a wrinkle into their defensive scheme b rushing one down lineman and two linebackers most of the night. "We didn't allow Randall to scramble as much," Taylor said. "We had two fast guys at both ends and a strong safety [Dave Duerson] playing the mirror [on Cunningham]."
The result was a huge sigh of relief in the Meadowlands.
"We've finally got the monkey off our backs with these guys, Giants nose tackle Erik Howard said.
Thanks to the littlest Giant.