Riley Cooper played the unlikely role of hero for the Eagles Sunday night. (Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)
Vince Young came into Sunday night's game against the Giants having completed zero passes on the season. And with about three minutes to go and his team tied 10-10 with the first-place Giants, Young dropped back to throw and looked for Riley Cooper, a receiver who had zero catches before Week 11.
He found him, too, alone in the back of New York's end zone. Young delivered the pass, Cooper made the catch, and the Eagles completed an absolutely out-of-nowhere 18-play, 80-yard, nine-minute drive to take a 17-10 lead.
"We just basically told the offense stay focused," Vince Young told NBC's Michelle Tafoya after the game. "Don't try to do nothing too big, just take our time."
By taking their time, the Eagles left the Giants without much wiggle room. Moments later, Eli Manning, who wants so badly to be considered elite -- and might have a better chance if his offensive line wasn't a sieve -- was hit and fumbled. Philadelphia recovered, essentially salting away a stunning victory and breaking the NFC East race wide open again (box score | recap).
The way Young started this night, it was fair to wonder if the Eagles might turn to Mike Kafka before it was all over.
On Philadelphia's first play Young tried to throw a short little dump-off to a wide-open LeSean McCoy and spiked it into the turf instead. On the Eagles' next possession, Young underthrew an open DeSean Jackson and was picked off by Prince Amukamara. He tossed a second interception in the second quarter, then another one in the third quarter -- ironically, on a pass to Cooper in the end zone.
So even though Young also mixed in a touchdown pass to ex-Giant Steve Smith, there was not much evidence after Manning tied the score early in the fourth quarter that Young was about to lead a potentially season-saving drive for Philadelphia.
But in this NFL season where up is down, day is night, San Francisco is great and Tim Tebow can't be stopped, we should have known to expect the unexpected.
That's exactly what we got. Five times on that epic Philadelphia drive, the Giants forced a third down. Four times, the Eagles responded by picking up a first down. On the fifth try, Young drilled that pass in to Cooper for six.
"He was kind of upset after the interception," Young said of Cooper. "I told him, 'Get ready for the next series and I'm going to find you.'
"Coach called a great play, (Cooper) cleared the safeties and I got him the ball."
The 4-6 Eagles now find themselves just two games back in the NFC East, behind New York and Dallas. They've had a chance to springboard big wins into more meaningful streaks at least twice this season and have been unable to do it. Will Sunday's win change their mojo?
If they play the next six weeks like they did in New York, then maybe. This was way, way more than just Young making a play at the end. Philadelphia made its presence felt along both lines, especially on defense, where the Eagles' much-maligned front constantly pressured Manning and stuffed Brandon Jacobs all night long.
Jacobs finished with just 21 yards rushing on 12 carries. Manning, meanwhile, took three sacks, threw one interception and coughed up that late fumble -- Jason Babin was Philadelphia's hero there, fighting off his block, spinning back into the play and stripping Manning from behind.
Young then handed off to LeSean McCoy twice, then watched as McCoy broke his second run for 60 yards to cement Philadelphia's win, giving Young an unexpected opportunity to line up in the victory formation and take a knee.
The Giants will leave Sunday rightfully upset and frustrated. One week after losing a tough one in San Francisco, they turned in one of their worst efforts of the season. The Saints, Packers and Cowboys await them over the next three weeks, meaning that this two-game slide could turn into something much worse in a hurry.
If that happens and Dallas stumbles a couple of times too, maybe the Eagles can hang around just long enough to get back into this thing. There's no point trying to predict exactly what will happen, though. The NFL could not be more random in its results right now.
Just ask Young, who went from an outcast in Tennessee to a mop-up duty player in Philadelphia and, now, to a Week 11 hero. The game was far from perfect, but the finish, for the Eagles, was better than anyone could have anticipated.
"Just don't ever give up on me," Young said. "I'm a team guy ... I will never stop, never stop. I'll always keep working."