EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Andy Reid was surprised the Giants punted to DeSean Jackson late in a tie game, even if there were just 14 seconds left.
Jackson was thinking, "They're really not going to kick it to me."
The idea, Giants coach Tom Coughlin confirmed, was, in fact, not to punt to Jackson.
"Why would they kick it to DeSean?" Michael Vick wondered afterward. "They was on their own from there."
Matt Dodge was supposed to boot the ball out of bounds. But the snap was high and Dodge was worried about a block, and he laid it out there on a straight line, 36 yards. Almost before you could blink, that Jackson fellow himself - after dropping the ball - was blazing up the right side, sore foot and all, past midfield now, in front of the Giants' bench, nobody in front of him.
"Oh, my God. That was crazy," Eagles corner Asante Samuel said. "I don't know what's going to happen to [Dodge], but I'm sure Tom Coughlin is pretty upset."
The New Meadowlands Stadium, at that point, sounded very much like the old Meadowlands stadium did, on Oct. 19, 2003. That was the day the Giants spent more than 58 minutes beating the Eagles, only to see the whole thing vanish when punter Jeff Feagles couldn't get the ball out of bounds, and Brian Westbrook ran a punt back 84 yards for a game-winning TD. We're not sure what the old Meadowlands stadium sounded like on Nov. 19, 1978, when Herman Edwards picked up a botched handoff in the days before kneeldowns and did the same thing to the Giants, but we will go out on a limb and guess that sound was much like the sound in 2003, and yesterday, when the Eagles miraculously won their sixth in a row over New York, including one in the postseason.
Yesterday's sound was a low, anguished hum that built in intensity as Jackson high-stepped 65 yards to the end zone, and then danced along the endline, bleeding off the final few seconds before crossing the white line into the deep blue-dyed turf, where his teammates piled on him and he pleaded for air.
For some reason, the NFL requires an extra point to be attempted in such situations, so the field was cleared of celebrants - and of Coughlin, who had journeyed far from the bench to accost Dodge - for David Akers to set the final score: 38-31, Eagles win, history made.
You might know the numbers by heart by now: The Eagles trailed 24-3 at the half and 31-10 when they got the ball with 8 minutes and 9 seconds left in regulation. They scored 28 points in less than 8 minutes, including three offensive TDs against one of the league's best defenses. Vick's arm and feet, and Jackson's magic, turned a rout of a loss into a victory that put the Birds alone in first place in the NFC East, needing only to win one of their last two, or for the Giants to lose one of their last two, to clinch the division.
"That was special," said a soggy Andy Reid, given the Gatorade bath by his players.
"I've never been around anything like this in my life,'' Coughlin said. "It's about as empty as you get to feel in this business, right there."
"I was jumpin' up and down, screamin', trying to lose my voice," said Eagles tight end Brent Celek, who started the comeback with a 65-yard touchdown catch with 7:28 remaining, the longest catch of Celek's career. "I've never been a part of anything like this game. When we came in the locker room, it was almost like you won the Super Bowl . . . The fact that we as a team won this game, shows you the heart that we have. We've had a lot of come-from-behind wins this year. Hopefully, we don't have to do that in the future. But a win's a win."
The Eagles have trailed in the fourth quarter of each of their last four victories. But not by 21 points, with the quarter half over. That was a first in the 78-year history of the franchise, a team spokesman said.
"In my mind, there was no way we could come back," said Jackson, who was ruled to have fumbled the ball away with the Birds down, 24-10, the fumble setting up the final Giants TD. Replays seemed to show Jackson was touched by Jonathon Goff before he hit the ground and fumbled, meaning he could have been ruled down, but Reid didn't challenge. "It just shows the character and the heart and the fight that our team put together to make a huge run."
Jackson, a Pro Bowler as a wideout and a returner last year, hadn't broken a return this season, hadn't returned a punt in this game.
How in the world did all this happen?
Start with the onside kick following Celek's touchdown, Celek having brought his team within 31-17. The Eagles purposely didn't send out their "hands" team with 7:28 remaining, hoping to catch the Giants flatfooted. And they did. Boy, did they.
Eagles rookie Riley Cooper, who failed to field a Lions onside kick late in the Eagles' Week 2 victory, was all over this one.
"We didn't have anybody even around the ball," Coughlin noted.
Vick was back in business with 7:27 remaining. He passed 13 yards for a first down to Jackson, then ran 35 right up the gut for first-and-goal at the 9.
"They give you a lot of opportunities to run the football," Vick said, after running 10 times for 130 yards ( five for 107 in the second half), and completing 21 of 35 passes for 242 yards, three TDs and an early pick. "They play a lot of Cover 2, and they like to blitz. It can be good at times, but it can also hurt you. They did a good job containing me and a good job with the passing lanes, but we adjusted to them. It got to a point where we were like, 'It's not going to be about them. It's going to be about us.' "
On third and goal from the 4, Vick pulled the ball down and jogged in for the touchdown that made it 31-24, with 5:28 left.
No onside kick this time, and the Giants tried to take their offense off cruise control. They managed a pair of first downs, got to the Eagles' 38, almost close enough to try a field goal that would have restored a double-digit lead. But a false start pushed them back outside the 40 and Dodge ended up punting to the Birds' 12.
Vick misfired on passes twice, then ran 33 yards for a first down. He got 13 yards on a pass to Jason Avant, threw incomplete (one of about half a dozen Vick passes that were batted at the line), then ran another 22 yards up the gut to the Giants' 20 just before the 2-minute warning. The Giants were officially in trouble, somehow, after outgaining the Eagles 222-74 in the first half, after converting six first-half third downs of 6 or more yards, after sacking Vick three times and hurrying him 11 more.
The Eagles got 7 yards on a pass to Celek, then Vick found Jeremy Maclin, throwing in the teeth of a blitz. Maclin caught the short pass on the left sideline, danced past Terrell Thomas and tied the game with 1:16 left.
The Giants didn't do anything with their ensuing possession, but they were at home and could regroup before the overtime after managing the punt with 14 seconds left. Oops.
At some point - probably today - pundits will throw the switch and start talking about how, as exciting as the victory was, it papered over some ugly faults. The Eagles lost their starting free safety, Nate Allen, for the season with a torn patella tendon. Their ball-hawking new right corner, Dimitri Patterson, played more like an albatross. Vick was horrendous early, when his line couldn't sort out the blitzes and he started looking like the Atlanta version, the guy who danced around, ran into sacks and threw the ball to the wrong team. Jackson, admittedly less than 100 percent with a foot injury, didn't have a catch until a minute and 6 seconds remained in the third quarter.
"I got a little flustered early in the game, after I threw the interception. I felt like I was trying to do too much and then I started playing conservative, and it kind of took me out of my game, I'll be the first to admit," Vick said. "The coaches kept telling me to stay aggressive . . . I believe in myself, I believe in my teammates."
The game was going south from the time the Giants took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter, but it really veered off the rails late in the first half. First, Allen went down, untouched, and rode the cart into the tunnel. Three plays later, New York went ahead 17-3 on a 25-yard Lawrence Tynes field goal, then the Birds got it back with 44 seconds left in the half on their 17. They didn't call timeout after a Vick scramble to avoid a sack that gained only a yard. No, 82 yards from the end zone, with 22 seconds left when the ball is snapped, the Eagles decided to throw. Not a hail Mary, but a 13-yarder to Maclin. And then Maclin fumbled, and Kenny Phillips ran the fumble back to the Eagles' 8. This set up the Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks touchdown pass that made it 24-3.
Some players mentioned Asante Samuel, playing his first game after 3 weeks off with an MCL sprain, speaking up at halftime. Rookie tight end Clay Harbor said Vick spoke up. Regardless, the third quarter didn't really mark a huge shift in the tide. That came much later.
"You know what, I'm proud of them, man," Reid said. "I'm proud of the coaches. Nobody was down. They were frustrated, but they weren't down. They were supporting each other . . . I can't name another one of these. This is a special one; I mean, this is exciting."
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