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On This Date in Sports October 19, 2003: Westbrook at the Meadowlands

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The Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants 14-10 at the Meadowlands on a stunning 84-yard punt return by Brian Westbrook with 1:16 left. Westbrook had single handily crushed the Giants all day, scoring two touchdowns, while accounting 145 return yards and 78 yards from scrimmage. The game served as the turning point for both teams, with the Eagles finishing 12-4 while the Giants finished 4-12.

Week 7 of the NFL season had the stage set for a key game between NFC East rivals, as the New York Giants coach by Jim Fassel and Philadelphia Eagles and Andy Reid both sat at 2-3 heading into a game in the Meadowlands. The Eagles after two heartbreaking losses in the NFC Championship Game were scuffling in their first season at Lincoln Financial Field. The Giants meanwhile had lost two straight coming off their bye week and looking to regain the momentum.

The Eagles season started off on a sour note as they lost their first two games at home. Opening the season, with a 17-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a rematch of the NFC Championship and a 31-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Coming off an early bye, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb found himself in the middle of a storm after Rush Limbaugh than working with ESPN as a Game Day commentator made controversial comments about the league and media rooting for McNabb and overrating him because he was black, which ended the Limbaugh ESPN experiment. The Eagles won the next two games against the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins but suffered a 23-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys heading into their must-win game at Giants Stadium.

The New York Giants coming off a playoff collapse in the Wild Card Game, started the season on a positive note, beating the St. Louis Rams to open the season. After a disappointing 35-32 home loss to the Cowboys in overtime, the Giants beat the Washington Redskins to go 2-1 into their bye week. After the bye, the Giants stumbled, losing at home to the Miami Dolphins 23-10 and in Foxboro against the New England Patriots 17-6.

After both teams punted on their first possession, the Eagles got their first meaningful drive started at their own 11-yard line. Taking over six minutes, the Eagles drove 89 yards in 11 plays to score the game’s first points on a six-yard touchdown run by Brian Westbrook. The key play of the drive had been a 25-yard completing from Donovan McNabb to L.J. Smith facing 2nd-and-18 on the New York 31-yard line. The Giants meanwhile had trouble getting anything going against the Eagles. However, late in the second quarter, Will Allen picked off McNabb to give the Giants a possession just outside the red zone. The Giants were not able to move the ball and settled for a 39-yard field goal by Brett Conway. Down 7-3 at the half, the Giants had their best drive on the second possession in the third quarter, moving 62 yards in 12 plays to take the lead on a one-yard touchdown pass from Kerry Collins to Jeremy Shockey. The Giants defense was masterful in the second half, allowing just one first down. However, they blew a chance to build on their lead, when Kerry Collins was strip-sacked by Mark Simoneau on the Eagles five-yard line. Down 10-7, things looked bleak for the Eagles as they used all their timeouts and were expecting to get the ball deep in their own territory as Jeff Feagles was punting near midfield. However, Brian Westbrook who had a big game all day returning kicks found an open lane and raced 84 yards to stun the Giants and give the Eagles a 14-10 lead. Desperate the Giants now had to score a touchdown in the two-minute drill. The drive started well as Collins connected with Amani Toomer on a 20-yard pass to get across midfield. The Giants though could get no closer as Collins last pass sailed incomplete allowing the Eagles to go into victory formation.

The game would be a turning point for both teams, despite winning the next two games the Giants soon went into a tailspin, losing their final eight games to finish at 4-12. The Giants would fire Jim Fassel at season’s end, replacing him with Tom Coughlin, as they drafted Eli Manning and began a new era the following year. The Eagles, meanwhile won nine of their last ten games, finished 12-4 and won the NFC East. Once again, they would suffer a letdown in the playoffs, losing the NFC Championship for the third straight years, this time falling to the Carolina Panthers.