PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Giants went from undefeated to unhinged yesterday.
They came into Veterans Stadium with a 10-0 record and a reputation for invincibility. But both were shattered when the Giants jumped into the gutter with the Philadelphia Eagles and lost, 31-13.
Losing once every three months in the National Football League isn't such a big deal. After all, the Giants remain even in the National Football Conference with the once-beaten 49ers entering next Monday night's showdown in San Francisco. But losing your composure can be a serious weakness nearing the playoffs -- and the Giants acted ugly in defeat.
Mark Bavaro, the tight end who rarely emotes on the field, attempted to introduce zebra tossing to the NFL. In the wake of Byron Evans' 23-yard interception return for the Eagles' final touchdown, Bavaro charged an official, tossed him to the ground and was ejected.
Later, quarterback Phil Simms absorbed a fourth-down sack at the Eagles 8, then remained on the field to scream at the officials. He also responded to the boos of the crowd with obscene hand signals.
"We didn't lose composure," Simms said.
Linebacker Lawrence Taylor disagreed. Taylor, battered and blocked all afternoon by two and three linemen, complained about being held, and said the officials were intimidated by the crowd. But, in the end, Taylor said the Giants had only themselves to blame for the defeat.
"When you play against a lot of ---- talkers, you don't want to turn the game into a street fight, and we did," Taylor said.
But funny things can happen in Philadelphia, the trash-talking capital of the NFL. For a solid week, the Eagles bombarded the Giants with verbal jabs that went unanswered, and yesterday they delivered a stinging knockout blow.
This was the kind of game the Eagles excel in -- helter-skelter, a mismatched series of plays that confounds opponents who relish basic football.
"They made big plays, and we didn't," New York coach Bill Parcells said. "There isn't that much to analyze."
After absorbing a season-opening, 27-20 loss against the Giants and winning only twice in the first six games, the Eagles have hit their stride with a five-game winning streak to a 7-4 record. It's probably too late to catch the Giants in the NFC East, but the Eagles are coming on strong for a wild-card playoff berth.
"The mood in this locker room before the game was that we would win, and win convincingly," Philadelphia defensive end hTC Reggie White said.
It almost looked easy. The Eagles playbook may appear to contain only three pages, but the basics -- see Randall Cunningham run, see Randall Cunningham pass to Keith Byars and see Randall Cunningham throw the ball up into the end zone -- somehow worked on three 80-yard-plus scoring drives.
Cunningham was 17 of 31 for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He also scrambled for another 66 yards and one touchdown, a fourth-down, 1-yard dive that pushed the Eagles ahead, 14-7, in the second quarter.
Byars, the running back who rarely takes a handoff, caught eight passes for 128 yards. He also flattened New York linebacker Pepper Johnson with a crushing block that was so impressive his teammates stood on the field and watched the replay on the scoreboard.
"Pepper and I played together at Ohio State, and he was the best man at my wedding, and we'll even go out to dinner after the game," Byars said. "But, for two weeks a year, we're bitter enemies."
Rookies Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams became the first wide receivers to score touchdowns this season against the Giants. Barnett ran by Everson Walls for a 49-yard, first-quarter score. Williams, a graduate of Baltimore's Dunbar High, got his 6-yard touchdown on an assist from Barnett with 13 minutes, 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Cunningham's throw was so hard, the ball bounced off Barnett, and floated right to Williams for a 24-13 Eagles lead.
"I don't think anyone challenged the Giants defense before this," Williams said. "The Giants are a good team, and they try to intimidate people. But we're good, too."
The Eagles, who bottled up New York's ground game with an alignment of four down linemen and four linebackers, used old-fashioned intimidation for the final touchdown with 12:50 left. The Eagles assaulted Simms with a blitz, Clyde Simmons deflected the throw and Evans caught the ball and ran 23 yards for the score.
"I guess losing is inevitable," Walls said. "But, in the back of your mind, you're hoping to be undefeated, and hoping to make history."