This game of giants changes remarkably when one of its littlest threats takes the field.
DeSean Jackson yesterday returned from a concussion and, with a special helmet hopefully designed to lessen the risk of further head trauma, Jackson provided the answers to every question the Colts' defense offered.
He caught a 9-yard touchdown pass less than 2 minutes into the game. He burned the Colts for a 58-yard reception 10 minutes into the quarter that set up a field goal. He took a pair of end-around handoffs 11 yards, then 6 yards, to help milk 69 seconds off the clock near the end of the Eagles' 26-24 win.
"He's able to do so many things other players can't do," said quarterback Michael Vick, who also returned from injury. "DeSean is just a different breed. He's a freak of nature."
Despite their recent separation, Vick remained telepathically connected with Jackson, optimistically listed at 5-10 and 175 pounds. When plays disintegrated and Vick sprang free, Jackson having drawn the defense toward the end zone, Vick was able to scramble 10 times for 74 yards.
Jackson caught seven passes for 109 yards, his third 100-yard game of the season - all wins - and the 10th of his career (the Birds are 8-2). He ran three times for 20 yards. He generally put the Colts in a prevent defense whenever he lined up wide. Jackson's mere presence makes defense so defenseless that, without eyepopping statistics, he made the Pro Bowl last season as a kick returner and as a receiver.
"You've got to respect his deep threat, and also his playmaking ability," said running back LeSean McCoy.
With Jackson back, the defense spread and deepened and McCoy found gaping running lanes for 95 yards on 16 carries, including a 62-yard burst on the opening play.
As healthy as the Eagles got yesterday, the Colts seemed to be equally hampered. They most missed abusive safety Bob Sanders, out since the first game of the season.
That might have meant a lot, considering the hit Jackson took Oct. 17 helped spur the NFL to subsequently issue huge fines to defenders for crushing defenseless receivers.
Whether Sanders' absence meant anything or not, Jackson played without fear.
"I can't worry about that little hit! What doesn't kill me makes me stronger! That's my philosophy! I don't know about all of those other cats. I'm going to play the same!" Jackson said, positively giddy in front of his locker.
He was so happy he pulled his sweater on backward.
It was a marked difference from 3 weeks ago, when, somber and escorted and concussed, he shuffled out of the locker room.
Yesterday, his outfit finally sorted, he grew somber again.
"I'm very blessed, very fortunate to be able to come back after sustaining a hit like that. Coming back in 21 days, going out there and playing freely, just playing like nothing's happened," Jackson said.
He admitted to being winded and taking himself out of the game at least twice. He acknowledged that he ran out of bounds a couple of times, that he ducked and covered.
"Got to," Jackson said. "If you're not playing smart, you'll get your head taken off."
He revealed that the game plan yesterday kept him from going over the middle, where the latest damage to his brain was done.
"The crossing route, across the middle, that was one of the plays the coaches took out for me," Jackson said.
Nevertheless, ironically, perhaps, Jackson stumped hard to keep the game as brutal as possible. He and cornerback Jacob Lacey repeatedly entangled themselves, once drawing offsetting penalties.
"Me and Lacey were going at it," Jackson said. It also was Jackson who challenged the officials after they made the game's most controversial call. Eagles safeties Quintin Mikell and Kurt Coleman knocked Austin Collie out of the game with vicious hits on the same play in the second quarter: "Don't take this [enforcement] and try to change football!"
Both Jackson and McCoy were careful to note that Vick's return resonated, too. McCoy also noted the comeback by embattled left tackle Jason Peters, who missed the last two games with a knee injury.
But the Eagles were able to ably replace Peters, and Kevin Kolb has been every bit the promising young quarterback the Eagles hoped he would be.
There is no replacement for a player like Jackson.
Whereas most teams would call more basic running plays with a two-point lead and 1:49 to play, Eagles play-callers Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, at Jackson's insistence, called on Jackson:
"I went to Coach Marty and Andy and said, 'Let's call that reverse!' "
"Let's run it again!"
"Let's run it again!"
Vick called an audible.