PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia tight end Keith Jackson tried last week to frame the importance of the Eagles' game tonight against the NFC East's other major disappointment, the defending champion New York Giants.
The 3-5 Eagles go into tonight's game at Veterans Stadium desperate to retain a fingernail-hold on postseason hopes. The 4-4 Giants are not much better off.
Bear with Jackson's reasoning here; it gives a good indication of where the Eagles are after four straight losses. Deep breath:
"Well, we beat them five out of the last six times, that makes the rivalry special. I hope we can win again. This is going to be a big turning point for us. This is a game we have to win. They've won four games, we've won three games, and we have to go out there with the attitude that this is the game that's going to turn our season around.
"The Giants are a great team, and any time you beat the Giants, that's going to give you confidence. They were 10-0 last year at this time, so not only were they the Giants, they were the 10-0 Giants. But this year, you have to really think of them as, 'These dudes are tough, they're having a little trouble right now, losing -- some games, but they're still a good team.' And [if] we beat them, we're still there.
"The Giants always had the Redskins' number, so you figure they were going to beat them two times, so we had to beat the Giants and then beat the Redskins one of the two times, and that's the way it worked. But, unfortunately, the Redskins are up there, taking off and having a great season, and we're playing for a wild card. So if we beat the Giants, it's going to put them down a notch and make us even and give us a better run at it."
Got all that?
Losing teams become, per force, philosophers. It's easy to get up for a football game when the championship is on the line. It takes work to find motivation in the nether world of Also-Ran.
The team that loses tonight slips irretrievably into that world. It's that simple. For rookie coaches Ray Handley of the Giants and Rich Kotite of the Eagles, it's now or never.
"Any chance of catching the [9-0] Redskins is well out of reach at this point," said Handley, whose team lost a hard-fought battle with Washington on Oct. 27, 17-13. "We have to have a different focus. Now we're in a battle for a wild-card spot."
Kotite isn't even in a position to talk comfortably about being in the running for a wild-card spot.
"We have to beat the Giants and get to 4-5," he said. "We don't have a lot of room to maneuver anymore, without question. We can't afford to lose football games from here on out."