Editor's Note: The Miracle at the Meadowlands III was voted the greatest play in NFL history on NFL.com (see story), and in order to pay tribute to the game, we are giving you the original story from Dec. 19, 2010.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- That’s three Miracles at the Meadowlands, in case you’ve lost track.
Thirty-two years after Herm Edwards scooped up Joe Pisarcik’s historic fumble and seven years after Brian Westbrook returned Jeff Feagles’ punt for a game-winning touchdown, DeSean Jackson’s last-second 65-yard punt return for a TD Sunday capped a furious rally from 21 points down with less than eight minutes to go and gave the Eagles a stunning 38-31 win over the Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium and command of the NFC East race.
“It was surreal,” said Clay Harbor who’s on the punt return team. “I didn’t really comprehend what was happening. When he ran past me and hit the end zone, it was like, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
The Eagles became the ninth team in NFL history to win after trailing by at least 21 points in the fourth quarter and the first in NFL history to trail by 21 with under eight minutes left and win in regulation.
The Colts beat the Buccaneers in 2003 and the Cowboys beat the Saints in 1984 after trailing by 21 with under four minutes, but both did it in overtime.
“We sent out the message [that] we’re a heck of a team,” LeSean McCoy said. “We’re going to fight to the end. Don’t get too comfortable with a lead, because we’re coming back. That shows you the attitude and then the heart. That’s a lot of heart. To put up all those points man, you’ve got to get a stop, then you’ve got to score, then you’ve got the onside kick. Stuff like that – that’s not easy. That shows you the heart we’ve got.”
Because of the foot injury that kept his availability for Sunday in question until 90 minutes before kickoff, Jackson wasn’t returning punts against the Giants.
Until the final one.
“Coach [Andy] Reid asked me [before the game] about punt return -- ‘What do you want to do?’” Jackson said. “And I told him, ‘If we need it and the game is close, just put me back there, and today was one of those times I got that whistle from coach Reid, and he said, ‘Get your butt back there.’
“So I went back there, man, and even when I’m on the field, he kept whistling at me and I’m looking at him on the sideline and he’s like, ‘Look it in, look it in,’ and I’m like, ‘Coach, I got this.’”
Rookie Matt Dodge was supposed to punt out of bounds, but Zak DeOssie’s snap was high, throwing Dodge’s timing off.
“Honestly, I was sitting back there thinking to myself, 'They’re really not going to kick it to me, they’re going to kick it out of bounds,'" Jackson said.
But Dodge line-drived the punt 36 yards to the Eagles’ 35, where Jackson promptly dropped it.
“Honestly, man, when I dropped the ball, I panicked real quick,” Jackson said. “But that was probably a good thing, because when I located the ball and grabbed it, I went one way, looked up, saw a crease, and I just shot through the crease, made a couple of good moves, and I saw somebody try to dive at me, and Jason [Avant] made a huge block [on DeOssie].”
Jackson ran the last 30 yards by himself and dancing around the one-yard-line as time expired before finally prancing into the end zone.
It was Jackson’s fourth career punt return for a touchdown -- twice as many as any other player in franchise history. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he became first player in league history to score a game-winning touchdown on a punt return to end the fourth quarter.
“This is, what, week 15?” Jackson said. “Throughout the whole season I haven’t had a big return or a return for a touchdown. It was a dream come true.”
Jackson now has 12 career touchdowns of 60 yards or more. Only 21 players in NFL history have more.
“That man is one of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever seen in my life,” Asante Samuel said. “He doesn’t have the size but the speed, the quickness, the agility, the hand-eye coordination. One of the most incredible athletes I’ve ever seen. Hell of a player. A lot of heart.”
The Eagles trailed by 21 points with seven and a half minutes left in the game before Michael Vick began working his magic.
With 7:28 left, he connected with Brent Celek on a 65-yard touchdown. Giants 31, Eagles 17.
With 5:28 left, he ran four yards for a touchdown. Giants 31, Eagles 24.
With 1:16 left, he completed a 13-yard TD pass to Jeremy Maclin. Eagles 31, Giants 31.
And then Vick retired to the sideline and watched Jackson do his magic.
“When he first kicked it and I saw the low trajectory on the kick I was saying to myself, ‘Why would he kick it to DeSean?’” Vick said “And they were on their own from there. I knew what he could do.”
Vick was 6-for-10 for 33 yards and an interception before halftime and 15-for-25 for 209 yards with three TDs after halftime. In the game’s final 12½ minutes, he was 7-for-12 for 151 yards with two TD passes, one TD run and four rushes for 94 yards.
“I said it in the beginning of the year,” left guard Todd Herremans said. “When Mike comes into the huddle, he’s got this determined look on this face … that’s like, ‘All right, I’m about to win this game. If you guys want to help, you’re more than welcome. If not, I’m going to win.’ That’s just the attitude that he has.”
Vick finished 21-for-35 for 242 yards with three TDs and one interception and ran 10 times for 130 yards.
Vick now has 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions this year. The Eagles are 8-1 when Vick plays the entire game.
“I had to stay poised,” Vick said. “I got a little flustered early in the game after I threw the interception. Felt like I was trying to do too much. Then I started playing conservative and it took me out of my game. And the coaches kept telling me to stay aggressive, stay aggressive, and the offensive line did a great job of stepping up despite the adversity, our receivers hung in there, our defense was resilient throughout the game, and we were able to make plays when we needed to, and those are characteristics of a good football team.”
The Eagles’ 28 fourth-quarter points broke the franchise record of 26, set in the 1992 playoff win over the Saints at the Superdome. It matches the second-most points they’ve ever scored in any quarter and the most in a regular-season game.
The Eagles’ 35 second half points tied the franchise record set at St. Louis against the Cards in Busch Stadium in 1981.
“Down whatever amount of points it was -- I lost track -- you want to make the most of every opportunity,” Vick said. “Every possession counts, every down counts. Block everything else out, forget about the score and make plays.”
With the win, the Eagles took command of the NFC East at 10-4 with home games remaining against the 5-8 Vikings and 4-9 Cowboys. The Giants fell to 9-5 with games remaining at Green Bay and Washington. One Eagles win or one Giants loss the rest of the year clinches the Eagles their sixth division title since 2001 and first since 2006.
The Eagles are now 10-3 since Week 2 and 6-1 in their last seven games. They’re 4-1 in the NFC East and finished 6-2 on the road, matching the third-best road record in franchise history. They were 7-1 in both 2001 and 2003.
This is the Eagles’ seventh 10-win season under head coach Andy Reid. Since 1988, the Eagles have won 10 or more games in 15 of 23 seasons.
The Eagles have now won six straight over the Giants, their second-longest winning streak ever against the Giants in a series that dates back 77 years. They won 12 in a row over the 1975 through 1981 seasons. The Eagles' last four wins have all been fourth-quarter comebacks, and five of their last six wins have been second-half comebacks.
The Eagles are now 18-3 in December games since 2006, and they finished the 2010 season 6-2 on the road, matching the third-most road wins in franchise history.
“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been a part of anything like this game,” Celek said. “When we came into the locker room, it was almost like you won the Super Bowl. But we’ve got a lot of games to play. It doesn’t stop here. This is just the beginning. The fact that we as a team won this game shows you the kind of heart that we have. We’ve had a lot of come-from-behind wins this year. Hopefully we don’t have to do that in the future.”
The Giants outscored the Eagles 24-3 and outgained the Eagles 222-74 in the first half. The Eagles came back to outscore the Giants 35-7 and outgain them 344-142 after halftime.
“We were discouraged after the first half,” Vick said. “We didn’t have opportunities to put the ball in the end zone, had some turnovers, gave them some points, and we just said to ourselves, ‘Listen, we’re going to go out and play with pride if nothing else.’ They might beat us 49-25, but we’re going to go out and play with some pride, and they’re going to know we came to play. That’s all I asked of all my teammates, play with some pride.”
Jackson had a rough day up until the final seconds. He had just three catches for 52 yards, one drop and a costly fumble, and Vick found himself telling Jackson throughout the game to stay confident.
“All game, they were on me,” Jackson said. “They double teamed, they did this and they did that, and Vick could kind of see I was frustrated. It’s tough, especially being the competitor I am, when they focus on me so hard. I want to do so great, and sometimes the defenses are not going to allow that, and Vick kept telling me, ‘Man, come on, man, keep your head up, you’re going to get one, you’re going to get one.’ And we just kept plugging away, and he got one.”
Vick said his message to Jackson was to forget his frustrations, forget the bad plays, and just focus on the opportunity the Eagles had.
“I just told him to keep fighting,” Vick said. “Everybody makes mistakes. Jeremy fumbled one time. I threw an interception. He fumbled. It’s football, things happen, you can’t get discouraged. It’s not the last down you’re going to play, so if you get rattled and start doing things that are uncharacteristic of you, you’re not going to stay in the game mentally. I just wanted him to be in the game mentally.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes, three in the first half. But the battered Eagles’ defense finally toughened up after halftime, limiting the Giants to one second-half touchdown on seven possessions.
The Eagles outgained the Giants 285-18 over the last 8:17.
“Just shock,” Manning said when asked his emotions after the game. “Just unbelievable. Just kind of, ‘How did that happen?’ You’re feeling good right there, you score a touchdown, you’re up 21 in the fourth quarter, feeling pretty good about your situation, and then all of a sudden everything just went downhill. Everything that could probably go wrong went wrong. We played a good 52 minutes, and the other eight minutes we gave it to them.”