EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - DeSean Jackson was still a good 20 yards from the end zone when New York coach Tom Coughlin threw his play chart and assorted game notes to the ground and began to run onto the field late Sunday afternoon.

He noticed that the headphones were slowing him down and he reached up to whip them backward off his head to improve his time in the dash. Then he went looking for punter Matt Dodge.

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It wasn't that Dodge was the cause of the entire fourth-quarter disaster that befell the Giants against the Eagles, but Coughlin was going to yell at someone and Dodge was a handy target.

The rookie had been told to punt the ball out of bounds with 14 seconds on the clock and the score improbably tied. Dodge had to gather in a high snap and hurry to avoid the rush, however, and the rest is now engraved deeply in the strange history between these teams.

"There are no words," Coughlin would tell the media a few minutes later, although he seemed to find a few to impart to Dodge. "I've never been around anything like this in my life. This is as empty as you get to feel in this business."

Coughlin has been coaching for 41 years, so he should know. For the players and the rest of the organization, what happened in their shiny new stadium on Sunday in the 38-31 loss was a tsunami that rolled out of the east end zone in the final period and washed away any confidence they might have had in their season.

The Giants are still 9-5 and can talk bravely about making the playoffs and wanting to see the Eagles again, but while the former might be true, the latter is not believable.

"What did they do different?" Coughlin said, echoing a question about what changed in the fourth quarter when the Eagles came back from a 31-10 deficit, scoring touchdowns on their final four possessions in the last eight minutes of the game. "What did they do different? They ran up and down the field. That's what they did different."

It wasn't quite that simple. A lot of things went right for the Eagles and went wrong for the Giants. There was a New York drive after the Eagles cut the margin to seven points in which the Giants were one more first down from a field goal and they had a penalty that stopped them. There was New York's decision to leave time on the clock at the end of regulation that forced them to make the disastrous punt. There was all of that, but mostly he was right. There was Michael Vick running the team up and down the field.

"We're supposed to keep the ball inside and he gets outside and runs halfway down the field. The next play, he gets the ball and runs right up the middle. That's what's frustrating," Coughlin said. "To be in position and then have the quarterback slither his way out of there, ducking down, however he did it."

Coughlin thought his team had this thing figured out through the first three quarters. His defense got to Vick, beat him up, and had him limping by the end of the second period, when Andy Reid made the terrible decision to keep pushing rather than regroup at halftime. A 14-point deficit turned into a 21-point deficit and the Eagles looked finished for the day.

"We got some good hits on him," New York defensive end Justin Tuck said. "He was getting up slow. But then that adrenaline gets going and you forget about it. He just put his team on his back and carried them. He made the plays."

The enormity of what Vick did on Sunday will be lost somewhat in the attention given to Jackson, who muffed the punt and took advantage when the New York coverage team got out of its lanes as a result. This was a Vick win, and it was gained at a point when most teams are mentally packing up for the ride home.

"He was the X-factor. You can't shut him down all game," Tuck said.

That quickly, in the space of those eight minutes of playing time, the division lead, a home game in the playoffs, maybe even the playoffs themselves were taken away from the Giants.

They lost more than a football game. They lost the right to believe in themselves after coughing up this one.

"We'll find out if we can recover. It's hard to envision the way to recover from this," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "There's no blueprint for what we do to get over this."

That's because there isn't one. In the dressing room after the game, with a 1,000-yard stare coming from every locker, it is hard to know what the Giants still expect from this season, or what they want.

Regardless of what they say, however, they don't want any more Philadelphia Eagles.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.