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Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson volunteered to return final Giants punt, then took two awful hits for it

Jackson's first return attempt since 2018 ended with a brutal injury on a so far unexplained late hit.

On this play, DeSean Jackson, reeling from a hit to the head by Corey Ballentine (right), was hit again by Madre Harper, breaking Jackson's right ankle.
On this play, DeSean Jackson, reeling from a hit to the head by Corey Ballentine (right), was hit again by Madre Harper, breaking Jackson's right ankle.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

It was DeSean Jackson’s idea, for the soon-to-be-34-year-old receiver to line up to return the Giants' final punt of Thursday’s game, with 2 minutes, 9 seconds remaining, Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said Tuesday.

Jackson, in his first game back from a hamstring injury, hadn’t returned a punt all season. In fact, he hadn’t fielded one since 2018, when Jackson played for the Bucs. But as Giants fans might recall, the little fella used to be reasonably good at that sort of thing.

Jackson caught the ball at the 13, took two steps, and absorbed a brutal hit to the head from the Giants' Corey Ballentine. Jackson bounced off the ground. Then, with Jackson rebounding, his right leg bent beneath him, the Giants' Madre Harper hit him from the right at full speed. Harper landed with all his weight on Jackson and his backward-bending leg as they rolled to the left.

Ballentine got a 15-yard penalty for hitting Jackson in the head. Harper got nothing. In the pre-COVID-19 world of covering football, someone would have asked Harper by now what he thought he was doing (could Harper have somehow thought Jackson wasn’t down?) and if he expected a fine. But these days, reporters have access only to players teams choose to put on Zoom calls, usually prominent starters.

Jackson, who had worked diligently to get back from a hamstring injury that cost him three games, has a broken right ankle and is on injured reserve, unlikely to be ready to play again before the end of the regular season.

Fipp told reporters that Jackson asked him for a shot at the final punt return, telling him, “I want to go back there and make a play.”

“Just a really unselfish football player trying to do anything he could to help the organization win a football game. He knew it was a spot where really the team needed him. He wanted a chance to step up and make a play for the team,” Fipp said. "So, obviously, he jumped back in there to take that kick, and, obviously, it’s unfortunate what happened.

“We all know that injuries are part of the game. But you never like seeing them, not to any player, but certainly not to great players like him. Especially guys who work so hard to get back into the thing. So, obviously, that’s tough to watch or see. In terms of the hit and all that, I think some people are talking about that. Obviously, I’m going to stay away from that myself, personally, but, yeah, disappointed in the injury there for sure.”

Elliott needs to pick it up

Last week, Fipp passionately defended kicker Jake Elliott, 1-for-4 this season outside 50 yards. Part of that defense was that Elliott hadn’t missed a field goal this year inside the 50. Welp, as you might have noticed, Elliott missed from 29 yards against the Giants, the shortest miss of his four-year Eagles (and NFL) career.

Tuesday, Fipp wanted to make it clear that while he supports Elliott, yeah, the ball needs to start regularly going through the uprights again.

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“Missing the 29-yard field goal is not our standard, and it’s unacceptable,” Fipp said. "I know Jake wants to be better in that, and knows he needs to be better in that. I certainly feel that way. I know everybody does. I also want to kind of make it clear. I know I stood here a week ago and said, you know, what a talented player I think he is, and how far along he is, and what he’s done, and I stood up and talked about a lot of the good things, and I hope it’s not misunderstood.

“I’m not saying that he’s performed at the level that we expect him to perform at. I don’t think he would say he’s performed as well as he thinks he should perform, either. That being said, I still really believe strongly in the player. I think he’s earned that right. He’s made a lot of big kicks here.”

Push came to shove for Hightower

After the Eagles' season opener against Washington, Aaron Moorehead challenged John Hightower.

The Eagles' fifth-round pick had a lackluster NFL debut, and Moorehead, the wide receivers coach, warned him he’d have to be more physical moving forward.

“I said ‘If you want DBs to be pushing and shoving you all year long, then go out and play timid, and they’re going to treat you like that,’ ” Moorehead said Tuesday. “We played [the Rams] in the second game, and the first play of the game he was in, he and [Jalen] Ramsey got into it.”

Since the chat between the two, Hightower has seemingly gotten into a shoving match with an opposing defensive back in every game this season. He even drew a penalty for doing so against the Steelers in Week 5.

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“We had to pull him back a little bit after he got the penalty out in Pittsburgh,” Moorehead said. “There’s something to that, where, if you’re a rookie receiver, I don’t care if you’re a first-round pick or an undrafted guy, DBs are going to go after you. That’s part of the NFL, and I just let him know, and he accepted the challenge.”