EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It is the story of this Eagles season, really. They have figured out how to survive without one of the most electrifying players in franchise history.
The secret: Simply plug in one of the most electrifying players in NFL history.
If the second-year wide receiver hadn't already reached stardom in this league, he surely crossed the threshold last night. In a nationally televised game, with first place in the NFC East on the line, Jackson was just about impossible for the New York Giants to stop.
He was must-see TV, the guy people all over the country will be talking about this morning. On a night when the Eagles defense was utterly helpless, turning Eli Manning's 10-yard passes into long touchdowns, Jackson was just too good to let the Eagles lose.
"There's nothing he can't do on a football field," said Michael Vick, who once had that aura himself. "He's going to be a great one. I've never been around anyone like him."
"He loves to play the game," Eagles coach Andy Reid, who can't help chest-bumping the kid, said. "He wants the ball, and I love giving it to him."
Jackson tied the NFL record with eight scoring catches of 50-plus yards in a season. He shares the record now with Chicago's Devin Hester (2007) and Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch (1951) of the Los Angeles Rams.
Fitting, because leg for leg, Jackson's are every bit as crazy as Hirsch's.
Jackson's TD catch and his 72-yard punt return obviously were big plays on the stat sheet. But to truly appreciate the breathtaking genius of the player, you had to see how he did what he.
Actually, even if you saw what he did, you may not be certain how he did it.
The punt return was an instant classic. The Giants, showing utmost respect for Jackson, tried to hem him in with a directional punt along the sideline. It was a better idea in theory than in practice.
When Jackson caught the ball at his own 28, Giants Domenik Hixon and Bryan Kehl were closing in on him. Jackson then backed up a few steps. It wasn't exactly a moonwalk. It looked more like someone running tape in reverse of him running normally. Having bought himself some space, and thoroughly bedazzling the oncoming Giants, Jackson took off along the sideline.
No one had a chance. Once he cleared the desperate lunge of poor Jeff Feagles, no one had a chance.
"I have a rule not to let myself get tackled by the kicker," Jackson said. "I have some explosiveness. I just use my speed."
That touchdown gave the Eagles a 24-10 second-quarter lead in a game that was only beginning to show how bizarre it would become.
Jackson's second touchdown wasn't as remarkable an individual effort, but it was an even bigger score in the scheme of things. The Eagles may look back at it as the most important play of their season. A few seconds earlier, they had blown leads of 14-0 and 30-17 and were suddenly, stunningly, trailing, 31-30.
"That gave them momentum," Donovan McNabb said. "Their fans got more involved."
Jackson went to Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg on the sideline. He went to McNabb. The message was the same.
"I told them to get the ball in my hands," Jackson said. "I think of myself as a go-to receiver. I want the ball there. I knew there were things we could do when they had me in single coverage."
The Giants' lead lasted 15 seconds.
A quick aside here: For years, there has been a debate about McNabb's place among the league's best quarterbacks, a debate complicated by the quality of the weapons he's had as compared to the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The emergence of Jackson is removing the hypothetical from this debate.
This was a classic Brady or Manning play. Plenty of time. Speedy receiver popping free deep. Perfect throw that catches the receiver in stride.
Giants cornerback Aaron Ross had no chance to prevent what was happening. But when he dove and missed and there wasn't another defender within 20 yards, Jackson was free to spin around and run the ball in backward.
A week earlier, Jackson sat home watching the Eagles play in Atlanta on TV. He'd sustained a concussion the week before.
"It was a terrible feeling," Jackson said. "It was the first time in my pro career I had to watch my team play without me. I didn't feel like myself. I told my teammates I was going to come out strong."
The Eagles will be a better team if they get Westbrook back. But they're a first-place team without him because of the kid with the crazy legs and crazier speed.