EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Eagles delivered their first big strike Sunday through Brent Celek's legs and Michael Vick's arm.

The next strike would come from David Akers' foot, an onside kick that would help swing the Eagles' most important game of the year - and one of their most memorable ever.

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Akers, who has played in 186 games for the Eagles, more than anyone in team history, couldn't recall anything like it.

"Greatest game in Eagles history that I've been a part of," he said. "By far."

Moments after Akers' kick, Vick would begin a remarkable fourth quarter running performance - even for him. But first the special teams unit, which had been ordinary this season, had to come up with a big play.

"When we got that, you kind of see their sideline, they kind of started to tense up," said safety Quintin Mikell. "On our sideline, we said we're going to get this thing."

With 7 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game and the Eagles' division title hopes fading, Celek rumbled 65 yards for a quick touchdown, but the Eagles were still down, 31-17.

Andy Reid approached special-teams coordinator Bobby April. "He said, 'Can we get an onside?' I said, 'Yeah, we can get an onside,' " April said.

Trailing the entire game, the two had discussed it earlier: The Eagles were probably going to need a recovery at some point to get back in the game. But the coaches wanted to spring it as a surprise. They lined up in typical kickoff formation, not overloading one side. The Giants, too, lined up as usual. No hands team. No sign that they were ready for what was coming.

"We made it look like normal personnel. They had normal personnel," Reid said.

Akers said he got the call as he went out for the kickoff.

"It kind of even surprised me," he said.

Wide receiver Jason Avant figured the Giants would be ready. "I definitely didn't think that was going to work."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said his team was instructed to be ready for the onside try, but he had set up a return because he didn't think the Eagles had to go for it at that point, down by just two TDs.

The result: On the left side of the Eagles' formation, they were running five men at two Giants. Akers drilled the ball into the ground, popping it high above the field.

"The job is to hit the kick 10 yards and hopefully with enough hang time to let our coverage team get there and catch it," Akers said.

It was up to rookie wide receiver Riley Cooper - who had botched an onside kick recovery on the return team in Week 2 - to come down with the ball.

Blockers ahead of Cooper - primarily Jamar Chaney and Dimitri Patterson, according to April - took out the nearest Giants. Cooper, a 6-foot-3 receiver, went up high and caught the ball cleanly.

"You can't draw it up any better than that as far as the front that they gave us, the five-man front and Riley just trailing behind and catching it at the high point," Akers said.

"We knew the onside was coming. They made a great play," said Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn.

Two plays after the recovery, Vick escaped the Giants' pass rush for a 35-yard gain, taking him down to the Giants 9. He had managed just 36 rushing yards until then, but at that point, something seemed to snap in the Giants' defense.

The rest of the way, Vick would add runs of 4, 33 and 22 yards, compiling 94 rushing yards and a touchdown in the game's final seven minutes.

Asked about the difference at the end, Coughlin said: "They ran the quarterback up and down the field."

As time wound down, the Eagles receivers were running deep, said Avant, forcing defensive backs to give chase and clearing out acres of space for Vick. Vick had to just elude the initial blitz to find huge openings.

"A lot of times my back was turned to him," said safety Antrel Rolle. "I would turn around and see him running."

The Giants would see plenty of Vick running. And then DeSean Jackson running. And then the Eagles celebrating.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JonathanTamari.