The end was glorious, as close as you can get to football heaven in the regular season.
The Eagles made dramatic plays seem ordinary and Michael Vick turned the impossible into possible. Vick's running and gunning got the game to a 31-31 tie and then with 14 seconds left when things got really crazy. That's when DeSean Jackson made a play that will become legendary.
Jackson settled in to return a punt from Giants rookie Matt Dodge. Jackson muffed the punt initially, then recovered it and danced around. He even backed up for a second before taking off straight up the field, racing 65 yards for a miraculous touchdown. Moses is famous for parting the Red Sea to lead his people to freedom. Jackson split a blue sea of Giants defenders and led the Eagles to what will surely be the 2010 NFC East title.
Watching the final eight minutes of the game was like opening a Christmas gift a week early. Obviously, that was the good time. The rest of the game? Not so much.
The first 52 minutes of game action - that was the bad time. The Eagles did some good things, but those moments were obscured by costly mistakes and big plays by the Giants. When the score hit 31-10 I figured it was over. The Giants are built for keeping a lead (good defense plus good running game). They looked like a Super Bowl contender for most of the game, while we showed up small in the biggest game of the year. There were going to be a lot of questions about the Eagles following a nightmare performance like that.
I re-watched the game, curious what I would see. The Giants outplayed the Eagles in that period, but it wasn't a case of them being more talented than us. They made key plays and we made mistake after mistake. Vick threw a bad interception early in the game. He missed some open receivers as well. Both Jackson and Jeremy Maclin fumbled the ball. Each one was questionable, but ruled a fumble nonetheless. The Giants scored touchdowns after each mistake. Head coach Andy Reid decided not to challenge the call on the Jackson fumble. Replay showed a defender touched Jackson's back before the ball came out. The offensive line was too porous. They didn't give Vick the protection he needed. Brent Celek had a couple of costly penalties that stalled drives.
The defense got in on the action as well. Dimitri Patterson had a terrible first half. Eli Manning completed pass after pass to his side. Patterson was beaten for three touchdowns. On one of them he missed a tackle. Quintin Mikell missed a few tackles in the game. Rookie Jamar Chaney jumped offside on a third-and-2 play and handed the Giants a free first down. Moise Fokou had one coverage breakdown and that turned into a 36-yard pass play to Kevin Boss. The Giants converted a lot of third downs early in the game. It was frustrating to watch two good downs worth of defense get flushed away by Manning on third-and-long.
All in all, there were a lot of breakdowns and mistakes. All three units were struggling and a number of players were guilty of mistakes. The Eagles have had some bad stretches this year, but nothing like this. We've seen the Eagles start slow and need to come back. We've seen the Eagles get soft after building a big lead. We haven't seen the Eagles struggle for more than a half. It was miserable to sit through.
Think how the Giants must feel. They played so well and capitalized on the Eagles' mistakes. We tried to give this game to them, but in the end we found a way to wake up and save the day. Vick was outstanding in the fourth quarter. He hit Celek with a 65-yard touchdown pass to get things going. The Giants didn't panic after that play, but Vick had their attention. David Akers and Riley Cooper combined to execute a perfect onsides kick and get the ball right back for the offense. All of a sudden the tone of the game changed. Vick scrambled for a 35-yard gain to put us in scoring position and then he ran a quarterback draw for a touchdown. That made the game 31-24. From there we just outplayed the Giants. They couldn't stop us on defense. They couldn't move the ball on offense. Special teams was disastrous as well.
I give Vick a ton of credit for the win. He never got upset at the struggles. He took some big hits, but always went over and talked to Reid and Marty Mornhinweg about what had happened. He was telling them what he saw and they were telling him what they saw. The great part is that Vick listened. He wasn't arguing his case. He and the coaches worked together to figure out what the Giants were doing and how we could beat it. Vick also calmed down his young teammates. Jackson was not having a big day on offense and let his frustrations show. Vick kept talking to him, trying to keep him focused. You're not going to make a legendary comeback without a big play from your star playmaker at some point.
The offense stunk in the first half scoring three points and totaling 74 yards. We normally have that many yards on the first drive of the game, let alone the whole half. After intermission, the offense scored 28 points and racked up 344 yards. Those are amazing numbers.
The defense had a strange day. I have to give them credit for playing good run defense all day long. Brandon Jacobs had averaged 8.5 yards a carry in the previous three games. The Eagles held him to 34 yards on 12 carries. Ahmad Bradshaw wasn't much better. He ran for 66 yards on 19 carries. That total was boosted by a couple of runs on third-and-long that got him easy yards.
Rookie Jamar Chaney got his first NFL start and played brilliantly. He made a handful of mistakes, but easily made up for them with all he did. He was credited with 15 tackles by the coaches (11 solo). Chaney was around the ball all game long. He handled inside runs well. He chased the ball wide on runs and pass plays. He blitzed well. Chaney looked like a good middle linebacker, not just a good rookie. I was really impressed with his performance. One of the things he did best was he got off blocks on inside runs. The Giants gashed the Vikings last week with their run game. I saw linebackers stuck on blocks and that gave Giants runners openings for big runs. That didn't happen against us. The long run was only 11 yards. Chaney's control of the middle had a lot to do with that.
The defensive line didn't get as much pressure as we hoped for, but they also had a good day against the run. Trent Cole slanted hard to the inside quite a few times to help stuff Jacobs on runs up the middle. Mike Patterson ate up blockers and made some tackles. Juqua Parker was credited with a pair of tackles-for-loss. All the guys up front helped shut down the Giants ground game.
Trevor Laws had somewhat of a quiet game until the final drive, but boy did he come up big. He just missed deflecting Manning's pass on first down. Laws got penetration on second down, but was held by Chris Snee. That didn't draw a flag. On third down Laws got upfield between Snee and Shaun O'Hara and sacked Manning to force the disastrous punt.
We can't leave out special teams when talking about the game. Akers had a great onsides kick. The ball took a perfect hop and went way up. It came down 10 yards upfield, right where we could legally get it. That kind of precision isn't lucky. Akers works hard on that during the spring, summer and even the season. Kudos to him for such precise execution. Cooper didn't blow the play. He waited until he was far enough upfield to make the grab and then secure the ball. As for the punt return, two guys deserve recognition. Omar Gaither made a great block in the vicinity of where Jackson caught the ball. Gaither hit a Giant, who then went into another Giant, who then went into another Giant. One hit, three players down. Jason Avant sealed Jackson's path to the end zone with a devastating block on long snapper Zak DeOssie. Both Avant and his victim stayed down after that hit.
Where do the Eagles go from here? Sunday was a great result, but mostly a game to forget. We can't afford another performance like that because you don't repeat great comebacks like that. Sunday was special. I hope the players realize that and come out on Sunday ready to play well from the opening kickoff.