Sam Donnellon: Eagles comeback was all about heart and pride

DeSean Jackson celebrates his game-winning punt return against the Giants.
DeSean Jackson celebrates his game-winning punt return against the Giants.
Posted: December 20, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - He was out of breath. Blood oozed from his right hand. Streams of water ran down both sides of Andy Reid's reddened face, as if he, not Michael Vick, had scrambled for 94 yards over the last quarter, as if he finished off this deliciously indescribable comeback himself - as if it was he, not DeSean Jackson, who cemented the most unbelievable chapter yet of this incredible rivalry with a game-winning 65-yard punt return as time expired.

"I'll tell you what," Reid said, still puffing and huffing in the bowels of the New Meadowlands. "My heart is a little weaker after this one."

They rescued him yesterday, his two big stars did, in a way that previous Eagles stars were unable. They flipped a 31-10 fourth-quarter no-doubt-about-it loss into a 38-31 victory with an improvised script that left their coach sounding like a fan . . .

A relieved fan.

"This is a special one," Reid said. "I mean this is exciting. This was exciting for you guys. I mean this is exciting. It's a great day to be a Philadelphia writer."

It was a great day to be the head coach of a team that includes Vick and Jackson. As most days are. But this time it was as much about their heads as it was their hearts.

There are things that bother you about how Reid coaches. At times it seems he goes against the grain just to go against the grain, like at the end of the first half yesterday. Forty eight seconds to play, your team down 17-3, backed up to its own 17 yard line - this would seem to be a good time to take a knee and regroup.

Instead, two pass plays are called, Jeremy Maclin fumbled the second, and a 17-3 disastrous first half becomes instead a 24-3 disastrous first half.

The Eagles were done. You knew it, the Giants knew it, their 81,223 fans knew it.

Hell, Jackson knew it.

"In my mind I thought there was no way we could come back," the Eagles receiver said. "But it just shows the character and the heart and the fight that our team put together to make a huge run."

Huge? Again, not a big enough word to describe the latest miracle in this series, and the greatest yet.

Go ahead, say greatest ever. I double-dare you.

The Eagles overcame the Giants, overcame themselves, overcame their coach, too. Normally a guy who overdoes it with the red hanky, Reid missed two chances to reverse calls. Hakeem Nicks seemed to trap a third-and-11 pass in the first quarter. Ruled a catch and unchallenged, it allowed what would become New York's first scoring drive to continue. That was obscured by a more significant one early in the fourth quarter, this time Andy failing to challenge a fumble by Jackson that the Giants returned to the Eagles' 47.

"I goofed," the coach said afterwards, and without prodding.

Reid had his moments, or at least a moment. The onsides kick that was almost lost amid all that followed was as much a psychological blow as it was a tactical one. But until the fantasy ending, the blitz-happy Giants defense had pinned Vick in the pocket, sacked him, hurried his throws right up until the fourth quarter.

"He had been pounded pretty good and we were getting after him," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

"What did they do differently in the last 7 minutes?" he was asked.

"They ran the quarterback up and down the field," he said. "That's what they did differently."

"We were discouraged in the first half that we didn't make the most of our opportunities to put the ball in the end zone," said Vick. "We had some turnovers. And we just said to ourselves, 'Listen, we're just going to go out there and play for pride above anything else. They may beat us 49-25 but we're going to play with pride and we can't complain.' And that's all I want. That's all I want to ask of my teammates, and my offensive line. To play with some pride and enjoy the game."

After Brent Celek's 65-yard touchdown reception made it 31-17, Vick had scrambles of 35 yards, 33 yards, 22 yards to fuel the ensuing drives. "I don't know how he got free," said Giants free safety Antrel Rolle. "I would just turn around and see him running."

He ran it in from the 4-yard line to make it 31-24 with just over 5 minutes left. He hit Maclin from the 13 to tie it with 1:24 left. The Eagles stopped the Giants on three straight plays, and after New York ran the clock as far down as they could, a high snap to rookie punter Matt Dodge created the line-drive punt that triggered Jackson's jaunt into this rivalry's rich, ridiculous history.

He ran the final yards horizontally across the outside of the end zone. At first it seemed another brash and foolish move, but it was, of course, the last great act by this team's two most self-reliant stars.

The clock read all zeroes when he finally crossed. There would be no chance for the Giants to do unto his team what he just did to them.

"Most of us wouldn't be thinking about that at that particular time," said his coach. "But I'm glad he did."

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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