Eagles 38, Giants 31

In a flash, the picture changes

Eagles tilt power with amazing rally

DeSean Jackson breaks free from the Giants during his winning punt return on the final play. DeSean Jackson breaks free from the Giants during his winning punt return on the final play. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
By Tom Canavan
Associated Press / December 20, 2010

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — DeSean Jackson never thought he’d get a chance to field the ball, and Matt Dodge was ordered to punt away from the Eagles’ elusive return man.

Well the rookie punted all right, straight to Jackson, who bobbled the ball before taking off on one of the greatest plays in NFL history — a breathtaking 65-yard punt return for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game.

The Eagles did it again to the New York Giants, winning, 38-31, at the New Meadowlands Stadium yesterday — a bitter loss that revived memories of “The Fumble.’’

“I was thinking to myself like, ‘They’re not going to kick it to me,’ ’’ Jackson said. “I was thinking he was going to kick it out of bounds. But it got to me. From there, I just used my instincts and my speed to get into the end zone.’’

The dramatic ending put the Eagles (10-4) in first place in the NFC East, one game ahead of the deflated Giants (9-5). And it took the play of the season to make it happen.

The stunning turn of events brought back memories of Joe Pisarcik. In 1978, the Giants quarterback botched a handoff at the end of the game, allowing the Eagles’ Herm Edwards to scoop up the loose ball and run in for the winning points.

This time, it was Jackson who made the play that capped a team-record 28 points in the final 7:28 that left the Giants searching for answers. It was the ninth time in NFL history a team trailed by 21 points in the fourth quarter and won the game.

“I’ll take full responsibility for the last play,’’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “With him back there, you don’t punt the ball to him.’’

They did, and the play will go down in NFL lore — believed to be the league’s only game-winning punt return on the last play from scrimmage.

“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.’’

The play occurred with 13 seconds left. Long snapper Zak DeOssie delivered a high snap, and Dodge was unable to do as instructed and kick the ball out of bounds. And then there were the Giants players, who failed to make the tackle, even after Jackson fumbled the punt.

After the muff, Jackson stalled, allowing his blockers to create a seam. They did so, up the middle, which he darted through. At midfield, DeOssie had a chance to make up for his high snap, but the Eagles’ Jason Avant laid him out with a textbook block.

Jackson bolted toward the end zone. He slowed down at the 3, where he began to prance along the goal line toward the left corner, before walking into the history books.

“I was definitely looking out of bounds the whole way,’’ Dodge said. “I got the snap and tried to get it off quick. Not a good time to hit a line drive, that’s for sure.’’

Coughlin confronted his punter on the field, clearly agitated at what had happened.

The final scene was surreal, to say the least, considering less than an hour before, the Eagles were down, 31-10, with 8:17 left in the fourth quarter after the Giants’ Eli Manning had four touchdown passes.

“By far, this is one of the greatest comebacks of my career, being down by such a huge deficit,’’ Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said after throwing for three scores and running for another.

Vick threw for 242 yards and ran for a game-high 130 yards. Philadelphia swept the season series and needs to win one of its final two home games (Minnesota or Dallas) or have New York lose one of its two road games (Green Bay or Washington) to capture the division.

The Giants dominated the opening half, outgaining the Eagles’ top-ranked offense, 222-74. Vick was under constant pressure, sacked twice, hit about a half-dozen other times, and limited to six completions for 33 yards, plus an interception.

“This game is all about momentum. We had it in the first half. They had it in the second,’’ Giants center Shaun O’Hara said. “I don’t think there are enough words in the dictionary to describe how we feel right now.’’

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