PHILADELPHIA -- On the bright side, we have a tight race in the NFL's most storied division and nobody tried a fake punt Monday night.
In one third-quarter drive Monday night, the entire unsightly NFC East could be summed up. There was the sputtering offense of the Eagles, a little inside football joke because the first Eagles incarnation made fully in Chip Kelly's image doesn't have much of an offense at all and is being led by a quarterback, Sam Bradford, who was hand-selected by Kelly but who seems to be only occasionally capable of throwing accurately. ("He needs to improve," Kelly said of Bradford.) There was the boneheaded mistake by the Giants, this time a running-into-the-kicker penalty that extended the Eagles' drive. And then there was DeMarco Murray, finally freed from Kelly's unfathomable purgatory to run free, in this case for a touchdown that gave the Eagles a 24-7 lead. Murray, who spent the early part of the evening shaking his head on the sidelines, finished with 109 rushing yards, his best game by far in Philadelphia.
There were other moments -- many, many of them -- that explain how the Eagles and Giants are knotted for the division lead at 3-3 (the very definition of mediocrity) and how the Cowboys could get there, too, next Sunday, when they play the Giants with their third quarterback of the season. The interception charged to Eli Manning that was really a fumble by Giants tight end Larry Donnell -- the ball was wrenched from his hands -- a play that ended an early period of dominance that had the Giants on the verge of going up by 14 points. The roughing-the-passer penalty on the Giants that gave the Eagles renewed life for their first touchdown drive. That play, in which third-year defensive end Damontre Moore drove Bradford into the ground, was the result, according to Moore, of him "having poor football IQ and me not being aware of the rules about dumping him."
The fact that the Giants, who won two Super Bowls just recently on the backs of their pass rushers, now rely on a fullback to provide their best pass rush.
"You can't play like that," Tom Coughlin said of the Giants' self-inflicted wounds, although he could have been talking about most of the game. "That's bad football."
All of it was. See: Bradford, who each week raises questions about what convinced Kelly he was better than Nick Foles. Bradford threw three interceptions against a defense that was without its best cornerback and that already boasted the worst pass defense in the league. He has nine interceptions so far this season.
The irony of the early part of the Eagles' season is that it is Kelly's defense -- an afterthought when analysts consider his master plan -- that is making the Eagles viable. It sacked Manning three times, contained Odell Beckham Jr. in the second half, allowing him just one target and no catches, and essentially locked down the Giants' offense after an opening blitzkrieg of 10 completed passes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
New York's loss, in which the Giants failed to lead in the fourth quarter for the first time this season, snapped a three-game winning streak. It was the first time that the Giants could not look at a game and think they should be undefeated. For the Eagles, they staved off starting out 0-3 in the division.
Somewhat incredibly, the Cowboys -- who have lost three games since Tony Romo broke his clavicle and are about to start Matt Cassel after Brandon Weeden was ineffective as the backup -- could emerge from next weekend with the division lead if they beat the Giants in New York and Philadelphia loses to the undefeated Panthers in Carolina. When Romo was first hurt, Jerry Jones had hoped the Cowboys could tread water while Romo and receiver Dez Bryant were healing. They have not treaded. They have sunk with Weeden, necessitating the switch to Cassel.
But if they were watching Monday night, the Cowboys saw their biggest rivals offering life preservers for their season. Everybody should grab one before they are submerged in the fetid waters of the NFC East.