EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - With his team trailing for the first time last night at Giants Stadium, DeSean Jackson knew exactly what number the Eagles needed to call.

"I think of myself as the big-play guy that we need to go to," Jackson said after he returned from a concussion and lifted the Eagles to a wild 45-38 victory over the New York Giants. "I was telling Donovan McNabb and coach [Andy] Reid and [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg that I was getting single coverage and there's no way they can do that."

Jackson was right.

In one electrifying play - with Jackson there seldom is any other kind - the superstar second-year receiver erased New York's only lead of the evening and put his name in the NFL record books.

Jackson, wide open around the 15-yard line, pulled in a 60-yard reception from McNabb, and the Eagles (9-4) never trailed again as they won their fourth straight to take over sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

That score gave Jackson his eighth touchdown of the season from more than 50 yards, tying an NFL record that he shares with the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester and Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch of the Los Angeles Rams.

"DeSean was bugging me the whole time because he wanted the ball," Reid said. "It was in a good way. He was feeling it."

Jackson finished the night with six catches for a career-high 178 yards and also returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown. He said he didn't feel right last week watching his teammates play while he recovered from a concussion.

"That's the first time in my professional career I had to sit at home and I wanted to make sure I came back and made something happen," Jackson said.

The Giants slipped to 7-6 and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season. The Eagles passed the 8-5 Dallas Cowboys, who lost at home to San Diego.

Reid predicted a heavyweight fight during the week as his team prepared for last night's game, but he couldn't have known that his featherweight receiver returning from a concussion would throw so many haymakers.

"I've never seen anyone like him," Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. "There is no one like him."

After Jackson's 60-yard touchdown restored the Eagles' lead, the defense, torched for much of the evening by both Eli Manning and the Giants' running duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, came through with consecutive stops and the Eagles managed to go up by 14 when fullback Leonard Weaver scored on a 1-yard touchdown run.

"That was just a knock-down, drag-out battle," Reid said. "I know they had a couple of yards [512 to be exact], but the Eagles had a couple yards, too. I think it came out about even when you add in the special teams."

While Jackson was clearly the headline act for the Eagles' explosive offense, he was by no means a solo act.

McNabb completed 17 of 26 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.

Vick, fresh off his successful homecoming in Atlanta, made some vital contributions, including a 1-yard touchdown run just before halftime.

The night started perfectly for the Eagles.

After they won the coin flip with a call of heads, McNabb led the offense on a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive to open the game.

Actually, it was McNabb and Vick.

The two quarterbacks combined for three completions in as many attempts on the opening drive. Vick had the longest completion, connecting with Jackson for a 32-yard pass at the New York 7-yard line.

Two plays later, McNabb dumped a screen pass to Brent Celek and the Eagles' tight end bulled his way 8 yards into the end zone for the game's first score.

The second score came less than two minutes later, and it was a true gift this holiday season. As he was being stopped at the line of scrimmage from behind by defensive end Trent Cole, Jacobs fumbled the football. The loose ball bounced off the foot of Giants tight end Kevin Boss and straight into the hands of cornerback Sheldon Brown, who had a clear path to the end zone for his second touchdown in as many weeks.

This wild and crazy evening was officially under way.

New York countered with the game's next 10 points, thanks to a 15-play drive that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes and a 68-yard touchdown pass from Manning to rookie Hakeem Nicks on a five-play drive that was a personal nightmare for Quintin Mikell.

After being called for consecutive illegal-contact penalties, including one on a third-and-11 play, Mikell whiffed on a tackle attempt after Nicks caught a pass from Manning just past midfield. Once the Giants' rookie receiver shook off Mikell, he had a clear path to the end zone.

"We have a lot of work to do," Mikell said. "We pride ourselves on being a good defense and getting pressure on the quarterback, but it wasn't our night. The offense bailed us out."

The Eagles answered the Nicks' score with 10 special-teams points to build their lead back to 14 points.

After the Eagles failed to capitalize on a first-and-goal situation from the New York 2-yard line, David Akers kicked a 20-yard field goal and the defense followed with a rare stop that led to another magical moment by Jackson.

After fielding a 41-yard punt near the Eagles' sideline, Jackson took a few steps to his right, then picked up blocks from Moise Fokou and Dimitri Patterson that gave him a chance to head down the left sideline. Jackson raced past punter Jeff Feagles and was home free for a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown.

His night wasn't close to being finished, but the Eagles' double-digit lead wasn't close to being comfortable either.

"That felt good," left tackle Jason Peters said. "They score, we score, they score, we score. We're just an explosive offense. We can score from 90 yards, 99 yards, 12 plays, whatever. And DeSean, I just don't know how he keeps getting that open. I mean, he's one of the best wide receivers in football and he's getting wide open."

NFC East

   W   L   T   Pct.   

EAGLES   9   4   0   .692

Dallas   8   5   0   .615

N.Y. Giants   7   6   0   .538

NEXT: Dallas at New Orleans, Saturday at 8:20 p.m.; San Francisco at EAGLES, Sunday at 1 p.m.; N.Y. Giants at Washington, Monday at 8:30 p.m.

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A Decade of Eagles-Giants

With three playoff games in addition to the regularly scheduled two meetings per year, the Eagles have played the Giants 23 times since the start of the 2000 season, more than any other opponent. In that time, the Eagles lead the series, 13-10.

Date   Result   Site

2000 season

Sep. 10   Giants 33, Eagles 18   Veterans Stadium

Oct. 29   Giants 24, Eagles 7   Giants Stadium

Jan. 7*   Giants 20, Eagles 10   Giants Stadium

2001

Oct. 22   Eagles 10, Giants 9   Giants Stadium

Dec. 30   Eagles 24, Giants 21   Veterans Stadium

2002

Oct. 28   Eagles 17, Giants 3   Veterans Stadium

Dec. 28   Giants 10, Eagles 7 (OT)   Giants Stadium

2003

Oct. 19   Eagles 14, Giants 10   Giants Stadium

Nov. 16   Eagles 28, Giants 10   Lincoln Financial Field

2004

Sep. 12   Eagles 31, Giants 17   Lincoln Financial Field

Nov. 28   Eagles 27, Giants 6   Giants Stadium

2005

Nov. 20   Giants 27, Eagles 17   Giants Stadium

Dec. 11   Giants 26, Eagles 23 (OT)   Lincoln Financial Field

2006

Sep. 17   Giants 30, Eagles 24 (OT)   Lincoln Financial Field

Dec. 17   Eagles 36, Giants 22   Giants Stadium

Jan. 7*   Eagles 23, Giants 20   Lincoln Financial Field

2007

Sept. 30   Giants 16, Eagles 3   Giants Stadium

Dec. 9   Giants 16, Eagles 13   Lincoln Financial Field

2008

Nov. 9   Giants 36, Eagles 31   Lincoln Financial Field

Dec. 7   Eagles 20, Giants 14   Giants Stadium

Jan. 11*    Eagles 23, Giants 11   Giants Stadium

2009

Nov. 1   Eagles 40, Giants 17   Lincoln Financial Field

Last night   Eagles 45, Giants 38   Giants Stadium

*-Playoff game.

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Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.