Sunday December 19th, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Five things we learned from the Eagles' improbable 38-31 win over the Giants:

1. So many of the memorable moments in Eagles history have come at the expense of the Giants -- the Miracle at the Meadowlands, Randall Cunningham's acrobatic touchdowns, Chuck Bednarik's hit on Frank Gifford. Add DeSean Jackson's 65-yard punt return touchdown high on the list.

The Eagles came back from a 31-10 fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game at 31 in the final minutes. With 14 seconds left, the Giants punted right at Jackson, who muffed the ball, picked it up and weaved up the field for the game-winning touchdown.

It was the first game in NFL history to end on a punt return for a touchdown.

Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the NFL, and the Giants coaching staff didn't want rookie punter Matt Dodge to give him a chance. "The young punter was told, 'Punt out of bounds.' [He] got a high snap and didn't feel like he could," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

Jackson all but credited the muff for his game-winning return when talking about the play in his standing-room only postgame press conference. "Panic," Jackson said when asked what went through his mind when he fumbled the punt. "But I was able to focus and find the ball really quick. I looked up and the first thing I saw was that seam."

And as incredible of a moment as it was, Jackson once again pulled a stunt that had to drive the Eagles coaching staff crazy. Jackson ran along the goal line, trying to run out the clock, instead of going straight in. Remember, Jackson had lost a ball en route to the end zone with a premature celebration his rookie season against the Cowboys, and he upset a lot of people by falling into the end zone against Dallas last week.

People can say what they want, that I'm arrogant, that I'm a showboat ... but I was just trying to get to the double-zeroes [on the clock]," Jackson said.

The Eagles came out on top and are now in great position to win the NFC East. The Giants will now have to fight to reach the postseason.

"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."

2. Just when the Giants looked like they had found the blueprint for stopping Michael Vick, the Eagles quarterback took off running and left them in the dust. Vick had runs of 35, 33 and 22 yards in the fourth quarter to fuel the incredible comeback.

New York had been frustrating Vick all day with safety blitzes and heavy pressure on the defensive line. With cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Corey Webster doing a great job covering Jackson and Jeremy Maclin one-on-one, the Giants were able to come at Vick with all they had.

"We were getting after him," Coughlin said. "We were hitting pretty good in the first half."

At one point, New York defensive end Justin Tuck sacked Vick, who limped off looking dejected. This just didn't look like his afternoon.

"I definitely was flustered early in the game. I got frustrated," Vick said. "Coaches just told me to stay aggressive. ... I didn't care about coming back, I just wanted to go play with pride. They may have beaten us 49-25 or something, but they were going to know we came to play."

Vick finally got comfortable late, running at will and hitting a few big passes, including a 65-yard touchdown to tight end Brent Celek.

"We gave them different looks, they gave us different looks," Vick said. "It was like a chess match out there. And we came out on top."

The Giants defense lost its edge late and stopped getting after Vick with the same intensity. They were still covering downfield, but they didn't account for his running. He looked more like the Vick we saw in Atlanta, relying on his legs more than his arms. While most experts would say that's a bad thing, it worked perfectly.

3. Until the Eagles' comeback, Eli Manning looked like the quarterback who should be an MVP candidate. He completed 23 of 39 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns, and his only interception came on a tipped pass. Manning was particularly effective on third down, which had been a weak spot most of the season.

The Giants running game, which had averaged over 181 yards per game over the last three weeks, was limited to 100 yards on 31 carries. That was fine, because the offensive line was providing enough protection to let Manning move the ball down the field.

4. The Eagles do have some serious concerns on defense. They were without linebacker Stewart Bradley and defensive end Brandon Graham, and they lost safety Nate Allen (knee) in the first half. Star cornerback Asante Samuel did play, but clearly wasn't at full strength. And they weren't able to get any real pressure on Manning for most of the game. The defense should be OK against the Vikings next week, but could be vulnerable against Dallas in Week 17.

5. The Eagles' success this season has made a lot of people forget how young they are and why a lot of experts didn't have them going to the Super Bowl before the season. They have very few of the veterans who won all those playoff games with Donovan McNabb over the last decade. A lot of their young players have to remember last season's late collapse. And, in the back of their mind, they probably wondered if that was happening again. But with Vick leading the way, this group has a lot of swagger. Even if they split their remaining two games, they'll win the NFC East. And no defensive coach in the NFC wants to see Vick in the divisional playoffs.

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