EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With 13 seconds left, DeSean Jackson never thought he'd get a chance to win the game. Matt Dodge was ordered by Giants coach Tom Coughlin to punt away from the Eagles' elusive return man.
The rookie punted all right, straight to Jackson, who fumbled the ball before taking off on one of the greatest plays in NFL history -- a breathtaking 65-yard punt return for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game.
The Eagles scored 28 points in the final 7:18 and beat the New York Giants 38-31 at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday, a bitter loss that revived memories of "The Miracle at the Meadowlands" in 1978.
Call this one "The Miracle at the New Meadowlands."
"I was thinking to myself like 'they're not going to kick it to
me,' " Jackson said. "I was thinking he was going to kick it out of bounds. But it got to me. From there, I just used my instincts and my speed to get into the end zone."
The electrifying finish left the Eagles (10-4) alone in first place in the NFC East, one game ahead of the deflated Giants (9-5).
And it took the play of the season to make it happen.
"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."
The stunning turn of events brought back thoughts of Joe Pisarcik. In 1978, the Giants quarterback botched a handoff at the end of the game, allowing the Eagles' Herm Edwards to scoop up the loose ball and run in for the winning points.
This time, the showstopper was Jackson.
"Somebody told me that coach Coughlin ran on the field and tried to get his kicker because he was just so pissed that his kicker punted the ball to me," said Jackson, who was limited in practice this week with a foot injury. "That just shows how mad he was at that punter."
Coughlin tossed the papers in his hand to the ground and confronted Dodge after the play, clearly agitated.
"I'll take full responsibility for the last play," Coughlin said. "With him back there, you don't punt the ball to him."
They did, and the play will go down in NFL lore as the only game-winning punt return on the final play from scrimmage.
Edwards, now an NFL analyst with ESPN, said he knows Jackson, and that the two will be "linked together." When he saw Jackson hit the crease "I said to myself 'are you kidding me? Is this about to happen? Same two teams, same result, same site?' And what many people won't remember is that it was the same corner of the end zone from the Miracle. Different stadium, but it was that same corner that I finished in. Unbelievable."
The play unfolded when long snapper Zak DeOssie delivered a high snap, and Dodge was unable to do as instructed -- kick the ball out of bounds. Even after Jackson fumbled the line-drive punt, the Giants were unable to tackle him.
"I was definitely looking out of bounds the whole way," Dodge said. "I got the snap and tried to get it off quick. Not a good time to hit a line drive, that's for sure.
"You can't give the most explosive returner in the game a line drive in a situation like that."
The fumble allowed Jackson's blockers to create a seam, allowing him to run up the middle. At midfield, DeOssie had a chance to make up for his bad snap. He could have stopped Jackson. He could of surrounded him, allowing his teammates to converge. But Eagles receiver Jason Avant laid him out with a textbook block that could be used in a how-to film.
"When [he] first kicked, and I saw the low trajectory on the kick, I was saying to myself, 'why would he kick it to DeSean?' " Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. "It was all the way home from there. It was a great opportunity for DeSean out there battling through the game and getting a W."
Once DeOssie was drilled, it was over. Jackson bolted toward the end zone. He slowed down at the 3, where he began to prance along the goal line into the left corner, before walking onto the blue painted turf and into the history books. For added measure, he threw the ball about 20 rows into the seats.
Dodge wasn't the only one surprised.
"I haven't had a big return or a return for a touchdown the whole season, so it was an honor to be in that situation," Jackson said. "It was a blessing."
When it was over, the Giants and their fans were in shock, and the Eagles were staring at a likely division title. The scene was surreal considering less than an hour before, they were down 31-10 with 8:17 left in the fourth quarter.
"By far, this is one of the greatest comebacks of my career, being down by such a huge deficit," said Vick, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another. "We were able to come back in a short period of time. It's outstanding."
Vick threw for 242 yards and ran for a game-high 130 in the win, which gave the Eagles a sweep of the season series with New York. They need to either win one of their final two home games (Minnesota or Dallas) or have New York lose one of its two road games (Green Bay or Washington) to capture the division.
The Giants dominated the opening half, outgaining the Eagles' top-ranked offense 222-74. Vick was under constant pressure, sacked twice, hit about a half-dozen other times and limited to six completions for 33 yards. He also threw his fifth interception of the season.
Eli Manning was given time by his line and made the most of it early, leading New York on touchdown drives of 71, 73 and 8 yards, the last coming when receiver Jeremy Maclin lost a fumble late in the half and safety Kenny Phillips returned the ball to the Philadelphia 8 with :09 to go. Manning found Hakeem Nicks in the right corner 4 seconds later for a 24-3 halftime lead.
"This game is all about momentum. We had it in the first half. They had it in the second," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "I don't think there are enough words in the dictionary to describe how we feel right now."
Manning finished with 289 yards passing and four touchdowns. Mario Manningham had eight catches for 118 yards and two scores. But it was all for naught in the loss, which clinched a playoff spot for Atlanta (12-2).
"I like to do things for excitement," Jackson said of his outlandish celebration. "That's what the fans and all the crowd pay for. So I like to bring that out."