Sunday, December 19, 2010

Miracle at the Meadowlands III: Vick, Jackson engineer comeback win over Giants

Special to the Phanatic Magazine

The Philadelphia Eagles have found several ways to deal the New York Giants heartbreaking defeats over the years, and they added another one to the list on Sunday.

There was "The Fumble" in 1978 when Joe Pisarcik coughed up the football into Herman Edwards' waiting hands, and there was Brian Westbrook's game-deciding punt return in 2003.

On Sunday, with these teams tied for the NFC East lead, it was the electric DeSean Jackson, whose 65-yard punt return on the game's final play lifted Philadelphia to a 38-31 victory over New York in one of the most memorable games in the NFL this season.

It was much more than just Jackson's return, though. The Eagles (10-4) trailed 24-3 at halftime and 31-10 with 8:17 to play, but Michael Vick spearheaded a remarkable comeback to once again make his case for league MVP.

Vick led three touchdown drives totaling 220 yards in only 4:39 of time to tie the game, and he resembled the Vick of old, totaling a season-high 130 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown. He also threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns while leading Philadelphia to 344 second-half yards.

"This is one of the greatest comebacks of my career," Vick said. "It's outstanding, I give a lot of credit to my teammates. By far one of the best."

The Eagles now have a one-game lead over the Giants (9-5) in the division and hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their two victories over New York this season.

Eli Manning threw for 289 yards and tied a career-high with four touchdown passes, but New York scored only seven second-half points to have their three- game win streak snapped.

Mario Manningham had two touchdown catches and finished with 113 yards on eight receptions, but it wasn't enough to help the Giants avoid their sixth straight loss -- including playoffs -- to their bitter divisional rival.

The Eagles trailed by 14 on their second drive of the fourth quarter, when Jackson was ruled to have fumbled the ball following a long completion near midfield. The Giants recovered, although replays showed that Jackson should have been ruled down by contact.

Philadelphia did not challenge, and the game appeared all but over when Manning found Kevin Boss over the middle for an eight-yard touchdown and 31-10 lead with 8:17 to play.

"I just told them to keep fighting," Vick said. "It's football. Things happen. If you get rattled and start doing things that are uncharacteristic of you, you're not going to stay in the game mentally."

But on the second play of the next drive, Vick hit Brent Celek down the middle for what turned into a 65-yard touchdown, restoring a 14-point deficit and seemingly keeping the Eagles in the game.

Some trickery ensued, as David Akers popped an onside kick into the air. The Giants coverage team was clearly caught unaware, and Riley Cooper easily jumped into the air to recover the kick and give the Eagles another possession at their own 43.

After a pass to Jackson for 13 yards, Vick found some daylight during a 35- yard scramble to the nine. On 3rd-and-goal from the four, Vick ran a designed draw up the middle to cut the deficit to seven and put the game's outcome in doubt.

The Giants, though, still had a chance to run out the clock or add to their lead with a solid drive; however, with the momentum clearly on Philadelphia's side, the Eagles were able to get another stop.

New York advanced all the way to the Philadelphia 38 before a false-start penalty pushed the Giants backwards, and a punt eventually placed the Eagles on their own 12 with three minutes to play.

Vick's first two passes fell incomplete, but another long scramble on third down advanced the ball. He couldn't find a receiver and sprinted up the left sideline for 33 yards, and his 22-yard burst up the middle a short time later gained the New York 20 and brought on the two-minute warning.

On the second play following the stoppage, Vick hit Maclin on the left side, and Maclin turned around a defender and rolled into the end zone to tie the game with 1:16 left.

New York's kick return got to the Giants' 36 with 1:10 left, plenty of time to drive into field goal range. Manning, however, threw two incompletions before taking a sack to set up the fateful play.

With 14 seconds left, Matt Dodge chose to punt to Jackson, and it was a low, line-drive kick. Jackson fumbled initially, but picked up the ball and ran up the middle. He broke a couple tackles before steering off to the right side, where a block was placed on the punter to clear daylight.

Jackson, thinking there was still some seconds on the clock when time had actually run out, sprinted parallel the goal line before waltzing in to end the game.

"I've never been a part of a game like this," New York head coach Tom Coughlin said.
Early on, it seemed as though the Giants would win going away, as the Eagles had no answer for Manning's
first-half attack.

On its third drive of the game, New York opened the scoring on Manning's 35- yard touchdown pass to Manningham. Akers put Philadelphia on the board with a 34-yard field goal less than two minutes into the second quarter, but the Giants pulled away before halftime.

Manning hit Manningham for another deep touchdown on the ensuing possession, this time from 33 yards away. On the play before the score, Manning converted a 3rd-and-12 with a 15-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks. Manningham then caught pass near the 15 and made two defenders miss tackles before getting into the end zone.

After an Eagles punt, Lawrence Tynes added to New York's lead with a 25-yard field goal, leaving Philadelphia less than a minute to try to close the gap. Maclin, however, fumbled the ball away, leading to Nicks' eight-yard touchdown grab inside of 10 seconds remaining for a 24-3 halftime margin.

The only score of the third quarter was an eight-yard touchdown pass from Vick to Maclin to set up a 24-10 margin heading to the fourth. That end-zone foray was set up when Manningham fumbled and the Birds recovered on the Giants' 25-yard line.

Notes: The Eagles have recovered 8-of-18 Akers onside kick attempts...Philadelphia has allowed 30 touchdown passes this season, the most in its franchise history...The Eagles have won 13 of their last 14 December games...Jackson recorded his fourth career punt return for a touchdown and first since December 12, 2009 against the Giants...New York recorded only 142 yards of offense in the second half and 364 overall.

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