EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Michael Vick asked the question that the New York Giants and their fans will be muttering to themselves for years to come.

"Why would he kick it to DeSean?"

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But that's exactly what Giants punter Matt Dodge did.

DeSean Jackson did all the rest.

The wide receiver - kept in check for nearly the entire game - fielded a short, line-drive punt from Dodge and miraculously raced 65 yards for the winning touchdown as time expired to give the Eagles an improbable, mind-boggling, there-isn't-an-adjective-suitable-enough-to-describe-this 38-31 win over the Giants on Sunday.

Amazingly, the Eagles roared back after the Giants took a 31-10 lead with 8 minutes, 17 seconds left in the game.

In nearly three seasons, Jackson has provided a highlight reel of great plays that would fill a career, but his dash for the ages at New Meadowlands Stadium goes straight to the top. It will be a part of Eagles lore as long as Philadelphians love football and can go by only one name: "The Miracle at the New Meadowlands."

"You know, I can't name another one of these," a Gatorade-drenched Andy Reid said in the postgame interview room. "This is a special one. I mean this is exciting. This was exciting for you guys. . . . Shoot, it's a great day to be a Philadelphia writer."

The original "Miracle at the Meadowlands" occurred 32 years ago at old Giants Stadium. The Giants were ahead and running out the clock when quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled a handoff to Larry Csonka. Herman Edwards scooped up the ball and darted 26 yards for the winning score. Giants fans simply refer to it as "The Fumble."

This miracle was bigger, though. The Eagles and Giants entered the showdown tied atop the NFC East at 9-4. A win would be a gigantic step toward the playoffs and a loss a massive step back, considering how the conference has played out this season.

The Eagles now own a one-game lead over New York, with home games against the 5-8 Vikings and the 5-9 Cowboys remaining. They control their destiny and could lock up a No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye if they win out.

The punt return was unbelievable for so many reasons. Most notably, there was the comeback. The Eagles rallied for three straight touchdowns behind a determined Vick to tie the score at 31 with 1:16 to go.

It was remarkable that Jackson was even out there to field the punt. He missed most of practice last week because of a foot sprain and didn't return punts for most of the game.

But when the Eagles' defense held the Giants to three plays after the visitors knotted the score, Reid beckoned his receiver.

"He whistled, and I looked up because you know that whistle is from Coach Reid," Jackson said. "And he said, 'Get your butt back there.' So I went back there, and even when I'm on the field . . . he keeps whistling at me. He's whistling and whistling, and I'm looking at him on the sideline. He said, 'Look it in. Look it in. Make sure you're good.' I'm like, 'Coach, I got this, man.' "

Still, Reid didn't think the Giants would give Jackson an opportunity for a return, even though Jackson hadn't taken one back for a touchdown all season. No one believed it. But when Dodge fielded a high snap, he got off a low liner.

"I think it went off his foot wrong because it ended up being a line drive, which is even double trouble," Reid said. "If you're going to kick it to him, at least give him some hang time."

Jackson bobbled and dropped the ball for a second, but calmly picked it off the turf. For most of this season, he has been content with just running toward the sideline and taking whatever is given. But this time, he threw caution to the North Jersey wind. He high-stepped away from one would-be tackler, hit a seam, received a crucial block from Jason Avant, and danced the rest of the way.

Of course, Jackson being Jackson, he did not take a straight route into the end zone. Just shy of the goal line, he ran 20 yards across the field to celebrate (his version) or run out the clock (Reid's version).

"I really wanted to do something crazy," said Jackson, who was criticized for his plunge into the end zone with a reception last week against the Cowboys. "I know everybody wants to give me a hard time: 'He does this. He's arrogant. He's a showboat.' . . . I'm not going to change."

Jackson's punt-return touchdown to win the game as time expired was the first in NFL history. It overshadowed the brilliant comeback led by Vick, who was stifled for almost 31/2 quarters. And it certainly eclipsed a flat effort from the defense and some questionable decisions by Reid.

The most notorious was the coach's decision not to challenge when Jackson fumbled the ball away after he caught a 30-yard pass in the fourth quarter. Replays showed that Jackson had been touched and should have been ruled down.

"I goofed," Reid said.

The Giants scored a touchdown off the turnover for their 31-10 lead. But the worm turned rather abruptly. First, Vick hit tight end Brent Celek for a 65-yard touchdown. Then a perfectly timed onside kick gave the Eagles the ball back, and Vick capitalized with a 4-yard touchdown run.

At that point, the quarterback simply took over the game. Vick ran at will and often because he had no other choice. After the defense held and the Eagles got the ball back, he dashed 33 yards and then 22 yards before he hooked up with Jeremy Maclin for a tying 13-yard touchdown that stunned the crowd.

Jackson's touchdown, though, left jaws slack. Jackson, who lost his father, Bill, to pancreatic cancer in May 2009, christened New Meadowlands Stadium with a new miracle for the Eagles.

"This is for my Pops, rest in peace," said Jackson, who cradled and kissed his right cleats during his news conference. "I did everything for him. I know he's watching for me. That's why I've still got this jersey on, man.

"For Pops."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.
Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Jeff_McLane