EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Where was Randall Cunningham? Or Reggie White? Or Keith Byars? Or even Bubby Brister and Keith Millard?
Somehow, the Philadelphia Eagles would come up with a way to beat the New York Giants. In the past 10 meetings, the Eagles had won nine, including five straight. Maybe it was Cunningham diving for a touchdown, or White coming up with a big sack, but the Eagles owned the Giants.
The Giants' offense punished the Eagles defense for 210 yards rushing and capitalized on two turnovers for touchdowns as the Giants defeated the Eagles, 21-10, at Giants Stadium yesterday before 76,050.
"We have now proven that we are serious contenders and have to be reckoned with," said Corey Miller, Giants starting outside linebacker.
Instead of a great showdown for first place in the NFC East, this is now the story of two teams possibly heading in opposite directions. The Giants (5-1) are a team in a gritty renaissance, led by first-year coach Dan Reeves, veterans such as linebacker Lawrence Taylor and quarterback Phil Simms and coming stars such as running back Lewis Tillman and Miller.
The Eagles (4-2) are in the twilight zone. White and Byars were lost to free agency. Cunningham (broken leg) and Fred Barnett (ligament damage in knee) are out for the season with injuries suffered two weeks ago.
Starting quarterback Brister (sprained ankle) and defensive tackle Millard (sprained knee) played briefly in the first quarter. Defensive end Tim Harris did not play because of elbow problems, and defensive tackle Clyde Simmons played, but was slowed by a knee injury.
After a 4-0 start, the Eagles are 0-2 A.C. -- after Cunningham. The Giants, though, are in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
"I don't know how good we are, or where we are compared to other teams, but I know we're in first place," Reeves said. "We have assured ourselves with our position in the first half of the season that we'll challenge for the championship in the second."
Eagles coach Rich Kotite said: "You have to give the Giants some credit, but I am upset with the way we played. We couldn't tackle. We gave up big plays. We played horribly. We better get back to focusing on ourselves. There are no excuses. I don't care about the injuries from a standpoint of effectiveness or lack of it."
The Giants had injuries, too. Halfback Rodney Hampton was out with knee and ankle injuries and so was center Bart Oates, and fullback Jarrod Bunch did not play because of an upper respiratory infection.
But Tillman, in his fifth year from Jackson State, had 169 yards rushing on 20 carries and touchdowns runs of 1 and 10 yards. Halfback Dave Meggett (Towson State) had 36 yards on eight carries and four receptions for 18 yards.
"Each week, there is somebody stepping up," Simms said. "Guys like Tillman and Miller are trying to push the old guys like me and Lawrence out the door."
Simms completed 11 of 22 passesfor 148 yards, and he kept Philadelphia's defense off balance by beating the blitz.
Facing third-and-nine on the Eagles' 17, Simms sidestepped a blitz and threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Ed McCaffrey slanting across the middle for a 7-3 lead with 10:07 left in the first period.
"That kind of play comes with experience," said Giants linebacker Carlton Bailey, from Woodlawn High. "We got a couple of guys who know how to win, and some youth that wants to win. And then we have Coach Reeves."
And who didn't the Eagles have?
"Let's face it," Giants guard Bob Kratch said. "They are a team missing a lot of weapons. Randall had the green light this year on offense, and there aren't many quarterbacks that can do the things he does."
Certainly not Ken O'Brien, who came in when Brister went down with 5:04 left in the first quarter. The former New York Jets quarterback was booed when he entered the game. He couldn't help the Eagles on drives that ended at the New York 37-, 40-, 36-, 37- and 41-yard lines.
He completed 19 of 32 passes for 210 yards, but his pass that was way short of running back Herschel Walker and intercepted by Miller with 12:23 left helped seal the victory for the Giants.
Miller returned the ball to the Eagles' 30, and four plays later
Tillman ran off tackle untouched for a 10-yard touchdown, the Giants' final score.
Another turnover, a fumble for running back Vaughn Hebron, from Cardinal Gibbons High, led to a Giants touchdown in the second quarter. Hebron's fumble was recovered by linebacker Michael Brooks at the New York 33 with 5:54 left in the half. After a 51-yard pass from Simms to receiver Mike Sherrard, Tillman finished the drive with a 1-yard run to put New York ahead, 14-3, at the half.
"We had been fighting bad field position all day, and our defense came up with a couple of big series," Reeves said.
"Our guys are going to have five days off," said Reeves, whose Giants have an open date next weekend, "then we'll get ready for the Jets."
"I'm hitting the beach in South Carolina," Tillman said.
The Eagles, who also are idle next week, won't take a lot of time off.
"We didn't look like we were playing for first place," Eagles cornerback Eric Allen said. "We didn't have the intensity. So many missed tackles. No big plays, either on offense or defense. You know where we need to go? Back to fundamentals."