The Giants’ reign as the lords of the NFL came to an end on Sunday as Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles convincingly defeated their long-time rival by 23-11 at the Meadowlands to move one victory away from the Super Bowl. The Eagles will confront the Arizona Cardinals on the road this Sunday (3 p.m.) in the NFC Championship Game. Whether using qualitative or quantitative reasoning, all the analyzing, finger-pointing and second-guessing that has ensued since the Giants’ fall should lead to one conclusion: The Eagles are the better team. While the Giants ended their season losing four of their last six games to finish at 12-5,the blistering Eagles (11-6-1) won six of their final seven, including two over the Giants in New Jersey.

“We practiced well. We focused well. Our energy was all for one, one for all,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. “Our inability to score touchdowns in the green zone was quite evident.” Indeed, the Giants were unable to put the ball in the end zone when presented with multiple opportunities near their goal line and were relegated to three field goals and a safety. “It’s not like they came out there and flat-out beat us,” surmised Eli Manning, who did a good job of helping the Eagles with his erratic play. Manning was terribly off target, completing just 15 of 29 passes for only 169 yards and two interceptions. No matter what the Giants say, the absence of Plaxico Burress was significant. For weeks it was obvious that Manning’s productivity steadily declined without one of the league’s most imposing receivers. “I don’t think it had a whole lot to do with that,” countered Coughlin when asked about Manning’s struggles. “The fact of the matter is Plaxico [wasn’t] out there.”

“We don’t care who we put out there,” echoed All-Pro defensive end Justin Tuck. “As long as we have 11, we think we have a good chance to win the football game.” Outside the Giants’ locker room, Jerry Reese, the team’s senior vice president and general manager, quietly but assuredly said, “We’ll be back.” With his successful track record, there is every reason to believe him. Yet it will still be a long off-season after a distressing ending.