EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown before thousands of fans had parked their cars.
It was an amazing, acrobatic, juggling interception, a ball picked off just before it hit the ground and returned for a touchdown.
It was four quarters of smacking, whacking, pushing, shoving, totally discombobulating a young quarterback, Donvan McNabb, who has been compared to Michael Jordan but who was smacking his head in anger and frustration.
The New York Giants defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 20-10, Sunday at Giants Stadium in front of a record crowd of 78,765. They beat the Eagles in every way possible. They beat them early and often. They beat them in the most demoralizing ways -- kickoff returns, interception returns and on defense where, as Jessie Armstead said, "We talked with our helmets and not our mouths."
For the ninth consecutive time and third time this season, the Giants beat the Eagles. This we know. The Giants are better than the Eagles. Because of that the Giants (13-4) will play host to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game next weekend. The Giants are back in the title game for the first time since 1990.
Before 14 seconds had run off the clock, a rookie from Lambuth College in Tennessee made the stands shake. Ron Dixon needed one split second to see a hole, sprint through it and race to the end zone. As many fans still were hiking through snow banks from distant parking lots, the Giants led 7-0.
"I was trying to make a kill shot," Dixon said. "I told my blockers to just get in front, get me a little screen and get out of the way because I'll do the rest. I saw the hole, I hit it as hard as I could, that was it."
The second big play came with 1:40 left in the second quarter and the Giants leading 10-0.
Having just made a first down, only their second of the game, the Eagles (12-6) were on their 26 yard-line and feeling some hope.
McNabb, who single-handedly defeated Tampa Bay last week, at least according to the stories in Philadelphia which were comparing McNabb to Jordan, tried to throw a pass while Giant defensive end Michael Strahan had one big hand in McNabb's face and tackle Keith Hamilton had another one up.
McNabb tried to strong-arm the ball to wide receiver Torrance Small.
But up stepped New York cornerback Jason Sehorn. Sehorn, a former USC standout, knocked the ball away from Small. Then, while lying on his back, Sehorn batted the ball up so it wouldn't touch the ground, then plucked it from the air, turned and ran 32 yards for a touchdown.
On the Giant sideline his teammates went crazy.
"I've never seen an interception as good as Sehorn's," Giant Coach Jim Fassel said.
"It was a situation," Sehorn said, "where I was able to break on the ball. I went for it, it hit my hands and popped up. My reaction was to just pop it up, hit it again. It was so high up, still up there, so I caught it and ran it back. I think it was just, I was lying on the ground and my instincts were to just bat it in the air." kern,0
Even when the Eagles put together a small drive at the end of the first half, after McNabb completed three consecutive passes to move the Eagles to the Giant 10, there was only the feeling that whatever happened would make little difference. Not after that interception.
And when the Eagles managed only a field goal to end the drive, there was the sense that the game was over.
And it was.
It was over because the Eagle offense only has McNabb as a weapon. It was over because the Giant defense never was going to let McNabb be a weapon.
"If you can force their quarterback to throw some balls when he's not ready," Strahan said, "that was a big part of our plan. We just kept saying 'Don't be afraid to rush (McNabb). Rush him. If he's gonna run it, then make sure you're there to make the play."
McNabb was runner-up to Marshall Faulk in NFL most valuable player voting and had been a dazzling double threat in the second half of the regular season, able to lead the Eagles in rushing and to throw accurately to a handful of no-name receivers.
"We forced him to be a pocket passer," Sehorn said. "That's not their scheme. Their scheme is to move him around and do a lot of things with him. We made him stay in one place."
Against the Giants, McNabb was 20 of 41 for 181 yards. He did throw one touchdown pass, but it was in the last two minutes when the game was decided. On six of the Eagles' first nine drives they couldn't get even one first down. McNabb was sacked six times and was hassled on a number of other plays.
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