EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- The damage had been done. Or so it seemed. The Eagles had already pounded the Giants for 28-second half points -- 21, alone, in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter. A 31-10 Giants lead was whittled and whipped into a 31-31 tie. What more could happen in the final 14 seconds that would matter?
Shoot, the Giants even called timeout before their punt to get it right, the one that was supposed to end the fourth quarter. The punt that would send this NFC East scuffle for late-season supremacy into overtime.
"I was over on the sidelines talking with the defense about what our plan would be in overtime," Eagles linebacker Ernie Sims said. "And then a miracle happened."
DeSean Jackson happened. Before that, Michael Vick happened.
And before all of it, the Eagles landed in this stadium on Sunday afternoon with a goal in mind, with an ice-cold mindset in place, with youthful explosion their makeup, their identity.
And then Vick and Jackson detonated.
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Jackson did it in a style, in a flair, with a showmanship that was pure Broadway. Pure theater.
"I told him before he went out for the punt," said Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel, "that I got something for you, $5,000, if you bring it back. Just a little friendly wager. I owe him."
Everybody pay up. The Giants did. Jackson's 65-yard punt return for a touchdown on the game's final play won it for the Eagles, 38-31.
Even if you saw it, it was hard to believe.
Even if you lived it, like the Giants did, you are numb.
"It hurts," said Giants offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, a former Eagle, a guy on the other side now who echoed his team's pain. "It hurts," is what several Giants repeated after this stunning defeat that dropped them to a 9-5 record with two road games (Green Bay, Washington) left in their quest to make the playoffs.
The Eagles have swept the Giants this season. The Eagles are 10-4 and lead the NFC East with home games left against Minnesota and Dallas.
The Giants invested a lot in this game. The Eagles invested as much. And maybe more, because they invested every ounce, every second into the victory. They put a hole in the Giants that will take real mending to fix.
This is what Jackson said of his classic return as he left the scene of his bold feat: "It took 'em down, bro'."
The Eagles could see it. Sense it.
"Not too many of them came out to shake hands after it was over," Sims said. "Not too many of them wanted to talk, period. I guess you can understand that. That was a killer way to lose a game."
Four Eagles touchdowns in the final 7:28.
And every second counted.
"I'm guilty," said Giants tight end Bear Pascoe. "I admit it. I just walked off the field, straight off the field when that punt return happened. I was on the return team. I had my eyes on him (Jackson). He gave me a spurt, a shimmy. I was part of that second wave at him, about 10 yards into his run. We should have adjusted to that. We should have gotten him down."
They could not bring Jackson down. Nor Vick.
It was superb execution of a beautiful Giants defensive game plan for nearly three and a half quarters. The Giants contained Vick. They pressed Jackson at the line of scrimmage. It was Giants 24-3 at halftime and 31-10 late.
Then Vick threw for a 65-yard score, ran for a 4-yard one and passed for another, a 13-yarder. That set up Jackson.
Vick's 242 passing yards were impressive, but his 130 rushing yards were decisive. When it mattered most, the Giants could not match his footwork. Backdoor, front door, you name it, Vick escaped.
Vick said the Eagles reached a point in this game where, "It was not going to be about them. It was going to be about us."
That sums up the Eagles' new stone-cold approach.
They play with an attitude and confidence that says they will win more battles, more matchups in a game than you do. Even when down 31-10.
To make that kind of comeback, the defense has to stiffen, the offense has to rise and special teams must contribute.
Check, check and check.
No question, the Giants blinked. They played the final eight minutes in a stupor. That line drive punt to Jackson was a mistake, the Giants said. Eagles coach Andy Reid called it "double trouble." The kick to Jackson, a bad enough idea. But a line drive? Cold-blooded trouble.
"I told him to be sure to look it in," Reid said.
Jackson had more in mind.
He was going to be the aggressor. So were all of the Eagles, despite being buried early.
"We were in the two-minute offense for the last eight minutes of the game," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "Michael just let his ability take over."
Reid added: "Everything for us just started happening quicker."
Reid said he had never coached in an NFL game like this one before. Never seen one quite like this.
So, that explained afterward in the locker room when he met his team why he yelled, "We did it!" and jumped around "like he was a 20-year-old," said Sims. He leaped high "like he was a 180 pounds," said running back LeSean McCoy.
On a day when Washington played at Dallas matching the other half of the NFC East, a game where Reid's old quarterback, Donovan McNabb, was benched, Reid kept moving forward, embracing youth, experiencing Vick and Jackson and explosion.
He knows he has a stone-cold duo, a stone-cold team with a stone-cold mindset. For Reid -- evident in his shining eyes as he walked out of the stadium -- there is something warm about it.