Eagles take Giant step toward real thing Walk confidently into playoffs, 20-10

December 28, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- They've walked, talked and at times eve played like champions. But the reality for the Philadelphia Eagles is that in three tries over four seasons they've failed to win a playoff game.

It's a fact that isn't lost on Philadelphia tight end Keith Byars.

"I don't want to forget the feeling of losing in the playoffs, 'N because I don't want to feel like that ever again," Byars said. "For us, it's not important making the playoffs; it's important winning the playoffs."

So, what the Eagles did yesterday was gain a little momentum on the way to realizing their goal, defeating the New York Giants, 20-10, before 64,266 at Veterans Stadium. The win completed an 8-0 season at home for Philadelphia (11-5), which hopes to carry the momentum of a four-game winning streak into Sunday's first-round playoff game in New Orleans.

The Eagles went into the game having clinched a playoff berth, but to coach Rich Kotite there was much to play for against the Giants, who finished 6-10.

"A lot was at stake -- momentum along with the confidence that goes with it," said Kotite, who will make his first playoff appearance in his second year at Philadelphia. "Winning four in a row is really going to help us going into New Orleans."

With the exception of Herschel Walker attaining his second 1,000-yard rushing season of his career, there was nothing glamorous or exciting in yesterday's win. The Eagles got the job done on offense behind Randall Cunningham, who threw for one touchdown (34 yards to Calvin Williams) and ran 20 yards for another, as the Eagles took a 17-0 halftime lead.

Defensively, the Eagles held New York without a first down and limited the Giants to 40 yards in total offense in the first half.

"As usual, when their defensive line plays well, we struggle a little bit," said Giants coach Ray Handley. "I thought [quarterback Jeff Hostetler] did a good job staying in there. They put a pretty good rush on him."

Hostetler fared better in the second half, when he completed 17 of 27 passes for 181 yards. But, aside from a 20-yard field goal by Ken Willis and a 13-yard scoring pass from Hostetler to Ed McCaffrey that made it 17-10 with 10:05 left, the game was never out of the Eagles' control.

"Offensively it took us awhile to get going," Handley said. "If we started the way we played in the second half, it could have been a different ballgame."

Instead, it was the sixth loss in the past seven games for the Giants who, after winning the Super Bowl two years ago, have missed making the playoffs for the second straight season. For Handley, who hasn't had the greatest relationship with his players or the New York media, yesterday's game may have been his last with the Giants.

"I'll sit down with [general manager George Young] at the end of the season and we'll make an evaluation," Handley said. "I'm sure George will make the decision that is best for the New York Giants."

Kotite also has had his ups and downs, including being criticized heavily by both Cunningham and linebacker Seth Joyner. But he benefited from coaching a group of veterans still capable of contributing, including Walker who -- written off by many -- gained 104 yards yesterday to finish the season with 1,070 (fifth best in Eagles history).

With Walker and Heath Sherman in the backfield, and with Byars switched from fullback to tight end, Kotite said this is his best offensive set he has had since taking over.

"It gives us a heck of a threat at tight end because we're putting our best people on the field," Kotite said. "They all block for each other and they all second-effort for each other, and I think we've ++ built a nice niche with it."

Whether that niche translates into playoff success remains to be seen at New Orleans on Sunday in the rematch of the season opener, a 15-13 Eagles win in Philadelphia.

"My philosophy is, let's take over their field," Walker said. "If you go in there laying the wood to them, their fans will start [changing]."

All-Pro defensive end Reggie White says a win Sunday could go a long way toward the Eagles removing their label as underachievers.

"If we get one on the road -- this one especially -- it will give us confidence that we can beat a good team on the road," White said.

Cunningham, often blamed for previous Philadelphia playoff disappearing acts, said there's no reason the Eagles can't prove themselves all the way to Super Bowl Sunday.

"This time, we're all mature," he said. "And we have a destiny. The destiny is to win the Super Bowl -- not just to get to it, but to win it."

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