EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Where began the thrill ride of Brian Westbrook continued the emergence of his apparent successor.
As a second-year player, Westbrook streaked 84 yards for a game-winning touchdown in the waning moments of the Eagles' visit to the Meadowlands in 2003. Almost ever since, the Eagles leaned on Westbrook to carry their offense.
Now, in his second season, DeSean Jackson has become the sort of weapon Westbrook was: lethal and, sometimes, undefendable.
Jackson missed last week's game in Atlanta after sustaining his first concussion the week before.
The rest did Jackson good. He accounted for 261 total yards and two touchdowns last night against the Giants, his second scorching performance of the season against them.
With first place in the NFC East available, having missed the last game, he was primed for prime time.
"It was Sunday night. The world's watching. Al Michaels. And I knew Dallas lost," Jackson said, dropping the name of the NBC announcer. "My intensity and everything was up. Sitting at home last week probably had a lot to do with it."
Still, how did he do it . . . again?
"He's a game-breaker. He can change the game at any time. And he gets wide open," marveled left tackle Jason Peters. "I don't understand it."
The Eagles move him around, have him run different routes from different spots . . . and trust in his amazing bursts of quickness, and speed.
"It's hard to key on me," Jackson explained.
As to his punt-returning ability, he was less able to define his success.
"It's, honestly, instincts. You've got to have vision," he said. "And then, there's my quickness to the outside."
That was bountifully evident.
Jackson's 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter gave the Birds a two-touchdown lead. It also was the third of his career, which set a team record, which he briefly shared with Westbrook, Steve Van Buren and Brian Mitchell.
His 60-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter regained the lead for the Eagles en route to the top of the NFC East with a 45-38 win. That score tied Jackson for the NFL season mark of TDs of at least 50 yards. It was his eighth. He now owns the team mark, set by Timmy Brown in 1962.
"I kinda had the record in my mind," Jackson admitted.
The record was matched in a stadium doomed to destruction in the final meeting between teams whose shared history at this site includes some dynamic moments, featuring Randall Cunningham and Herm Edwards and, surely, Westbrook.
Jackson's punt return and touchdown catch might not have been of as much import as some of those, but, man, they sure were pretty.
The return TD came on a lousy punt, period: only 41 low-flying yards by Jeff Feagles.
Jackson somehow . . . somehow . . . jogged right, reversed field, where a block still had the sideline sealed. Then Jackson just outran everyone, with Feagles shutting off a cutback to the inside, the sideline on Jackson's left.
Jackson hesitated as he approached Feagles and simply blew past him, stayed inbounds and finished off a 72-yard return.
Jackson had three huge receptions. The first, for 32 yards from Michael Vick, set up the Eagles' first touchdown. The second, for 44 yards, set up the touchdown that gave the Eagles a 30-17 halftime lead.
The third, the 60-yarder, supplied instant retribution after the Giants took the lead by one on a 61-yard catch-and-run by Domenik Hixon. And it was followed by Jackson mimicking the Riverdance of Chad Ochocinco.
He was so open, he ran the last 20 yards backward into the end zone. He was so nimble, he avoided the beverage container fired into the end zone from a disgusted Giants fan.
He was not evasive enough to avoid the cheap-shot head butt Aaron Ross laid on him long after the end of a play on the ensuing series (there was no call).
"Before the game, some of my friends on the Giants told me they'd be getting after me," said Jackson, who also had a woofing match with sidelined linebacker Antonio Pierce. "I stay calm."
He'd better get used to such tactics. Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens, the best quarterback Donovan McNabb has played with, got that sort of treatment. They overcame it.
If Jackson can do the same, the sky might not be the limit.
"The things he's able to do - he hasn't displayed all of them yet," McNabb teased.
Last night was no coming-out party for Jackson. He scooted for 178 total yards, including a 54-yard touchdown catch, against the Giants earlier this season.
The guard has been changing all season. For good.
Remember, Jackson's touchdown reception was his eighth score from 50 yards or more.
Devin Hester, the Bears' returner whom Jackson has said he admires, also had eight, in 2007. Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, the Rams Hall of Famer whom Jackson probably has never heard of, did it in 1951.
Westbrook, having suffered two concussions this season, missed his sixth of the last seven games in what could be his last season as an Eagle. He might never reach eight TDs from that sort of distance; he has six, plus a pair in the playoffs that don't count toward the total.