EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Philadelphia Eagles made enough dumb mistakes Sunday for two or three games. The New York Giants made even more.

Yet if the playoffs started today, both teams would be in. That’s a demonstration of just how bad almost everyone in the NFC is right now.

No, drop the “almost.” Make it the entire NFC.

For if the playoffs started next week, a .500 team, the Giants (7-7), would be in them despite their awful play in the 36-22 loss to Eagles.

Who knows? New York could probably lose its last two and make the postseason at 7-9. Other than the Eagles (8-6), every NFC team that could have either improved its seeding or its chances (New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta and Seattle to name four) lost this week. The way things are going, that’s a pattern that could continue for the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Seahawks are a perfect example.

The defending NFC champions (8-6) could have clinched the West by beating an improving but still rebuilding San Francisco at home Thursday night. They didn’t. Nothing to fear – they might actually win the division at 8-8, finishing with four straight losses.

Why not? They get San Diego, the league’s best team next week, then finish at Tampa Bay, which took NFC leader Chicago to overtime on Sunday.

The rest?

The Saints still get a first-round bye because they beat Dallas, with whom they are tied at 9-5. But they would have been in a lot better shape if they hadn’t lost Sunday to Washington (5-9) – at home, no less.

Carolina, one of the preseason favorites in the conference, should be dead at 6-8 after three straight losses, including a 37-3 thumping by Pittsburgh on Sunday. It’s not. Nor is Minnesota, which is 2-6 since starting 4-2.

Atlanta (7-7) comported itself fairly well against Dallas on Saturday night. But the Falcons were beaten by the Giants earlier in the season, so New York holds the tiebreaker there.

In other words, take your pick of mediocrity.

It was exemplified in the Eagles-Giants game, which was finally decided by two Philadelphia touchdowns within 10 seconds with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter. That was the right outcome considering the visitors were the better team for most of the day – but in this case, “better” is defined as “less bad.”.

Thus the mea culpas by the quarterbacks of New York’s defense and offense.

“It’s on me,” said Antonio Pierce, the Giants’ middle linebacker who blamed himself for a 28-yard touchdown run by Brian Westbrook early in the third quarter, and for a 27-yard pass from Jeff Garcia that set up the go-ahead TD after the Giants had taken a 22-21 lead with just under seven minutes to go.

“A bad decision by me,” Eli Manning said of trying to force a throw as he was hit by a blitzing Sheldon Brown. That pass was returned by Trent Cole for the clinching TD just 10 ticks after Philly had gone ahead 29-22 with a touchdown and 2-point conversion.

OK, those guys were on the losing team. They have the right to confess their malfeasance.

That Brown and Cole were the heroes fits the way these two teams have comported themselves this season.

In the first meeting between the two, won by the Giants 30-24 in overtime, they were among the goats who allowed New York to overcome a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit.

Brown was victimized by Plaxico Burress for the winning TD in overtime, although to be fair, it was simply a case of a 6-foot-5 receiver jumping over a 5-10 cornerback. Cole was more culpable, incurring a 15-yard penalty for a foot to the groin of Kareem McKenzie of the Giants that allowed Jay Feely to kick the tying field goal from a comfortable 35 yards instead of 50.

On Sunday, it was Garcia, a 36-year-old quarterback, who made the game’s bonehead play.

It came early in the fourth quarter with the Eagles leading 21-16 and the Giants reeling after their third turnover. He scrambled around right end for a first down at the New York 22, then, in his exuberance, spiked the ball near New York’s Gibril Wilson for a 15-yard taunting penalty.

Back to the 37 went the Eagles, who seemed about to put the game away. Two plays later, Garcia, who is best throwing short, tried to go deep and never saw Will Demps. He intercepted the ball and, combined after lateraling to R.W. McQuarters, the Giants got a 53-yard return to the Philly 35.

That led to New York’s go-ahead touchdown, helped by a pass interference call on Brown against Burress.

“I’m just glad I’m not up here apologizing for my actions costing us a chance to win that game,” said Garcia, who was chewed out on the sideline by coach Andy Reid.

“He is a competitive little son of a gun,” Reid said. “(But) he had the slamming the ball in the guy’s face and you can’t do that. I’m glad he has that amount of energy at 36, but that can be trouble at times.”

Reid, in fact, summed up what happened quite well.

“Well, it was two 7-6 teams,” he said. “Two teams that have had up-and-down seasons in an up-down game.”

Up and down can also translate to mediocre.

In this case, it translates to an entire conference.


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