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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- DeSean Jackson couldn't believe it.
Neither could Andy Reid. Neither could Tom Coughlin. And neither could any of the 81,223 witnesses at New Meadowlands Stadium.
|Jackson's clutch play starts, as so many do ... with a fumble?|
No one saw it coming.
In fact, it took only 14 seconds.
But when it happened, everyone -- from the winners to the losers -- was stunned.
Whether you want to call it the second Miracle at the Meadowlands, The Immaculate Return, The Return, The Seam or something else is irrelevant. Because Jackson's 65-yard punt return for a touchdown with no time remaining that lifted the Philadelphia Eagles to an improbable 38-31 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon will live in NFL lore forever.
Nickname or not.
"Honestly, it's a blessing," said Jackson, who with one surreal individual effort will always live in Eagles history with the likes of Brian Westbrook and Herm Edwards -- the man who made the first Miracle at the Meadowlands a reality -- as one of the greatest Giants killers of all time.
"It's a dream come true. Sitting back there looking at 12 seconds left before the referee put the extra two seconds on -- not that it mattered, but I'm just sitting back there and thinking to myself, 'They're really not going to kick it to me.' I was thinking he was gonna kick it out of bounds or do something out of the ordinary."
That, of course, was where Jackson was wrong. The Eagles had just forced the Giants into a three-and-out and the game -- the one New York had led 31-10 with 8:17 remaining in the fourth quarter -- seemed destined for overtime.
|DeSean Jackson leaves punter Matt Dodge in the dust on the winning punt return.|
"I wasn't sure they were gonna punt to him," said Reid, the Eagles' coach. "But I wanted to make sure he was out there."
All punter Matt Dodge had to do with 14 seconds left was kick the ball out of bounds and the teams would've been headed for sudden death.
Dodge took a high snap from Zak DeOssie and shanked a low, line-drive punt off the side of his foot to Jackson, who was waiting on his 35 to field it.
Jackson waited for the ball to fall into his awaiting arms. That's when chaos ensued.
For the second time in the game, Jackson fumbled. This time the ball was sitting right there, prone at the 35. And Giants special teamers were converging. Fast.
Alertly, Jackson regained his composure, as well as possession of the ball. He took two steps back to the 30.
Then, as he was starting back up the field, he saw a seam. The lane to victory had appeared.
|As is his custom, DeSean Jackson starts celebrating before reaching the end zone.|
Jackson turned on the jets, bolting toward the right sideline. He eluded a diving Dodge at the 45, and Jason Avant followed with a punishing block on DeOssie at the Giants' 45.
Jackson put the ball in the air with his right hand 35 yards from pay dirt. He knew just as well as the Giants knew.
He was gone. It was over.
Surprisingly, though -- at least to those who don't know the flamboyant receiver -- Jackson stopped at the 5 and began running parallel with the end zone.
He said he was just making sure there was no time left on the clock. And once he realized there wasn't, Jackson waltzed in, fired the ball into the crowd and began jumping for joy with his teammates along the Eagles' sideline.
"I try to always do something out there," Jackson said. "I probably would've dove in from the 12-yard line if I could've. I knew it was like 12 to 14 seconds left. And I didn't know if I made it with time still on the clock and I just wanted to run the time out. I knew nobody was gonna catch me.
"And like I said, I like to do stuff for excitement. And that's what the fans and all the crowd, they pay for that. And I just wanted to bring that out for them.
"I really wanted to do something crazy. I know everybody wants to give me a hard time: 'He's arrogant. He's a showboat.' Whatever it is, I'm not gonna change."
Neither, apparently, is Coughlin. Even before Jackson had stepped foot in the end zone, the Giants' coach was already making a beeline for Dodge -- and he proceeded to give his punter a tongue-lashing for the ages.
|Considering the scolding he got from Tom Coughlin, Matt Dodge might've been better off on the turf.|
"Somebody told me Coach Coughlin ran on the field and tried to get his kicker because he was so pissed that his kicker kicked to me," Jackson said. "So I was like, 'Really? During the play?' I'm not even in the end zone yet and he's running on the field. So that just shows how mad he was with that punter, man."
What made the whole play even more remarkable was that Jackson played the entire game with a foot injury, suffered against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 12 during his career-high, 210-yard receiving effort.
"My foot's still not 100 percent," Jackson said. "But it was impossible not to come on this field. I can't just sit out with our other warriors willing to get out there and play.
"I felt it. I felt it all game. I took some medicine, but it didn't help with the foot. It doesn't matter though. We're in first place in the NFC baby!"
Just 8:17 earlier it seemed like a loss was inevitable -- especially after Jackson coughed up a fumble with 12:48 remaining that led directly to Eli Manning's fourth touchdown of the game that put the Giants up by 21 for the second time.
|Fellow receiver Jeremy Maclin flattens DeSean Jackson after the Eagles star flattened the Giants.|
But the Eagles fought through adversity -- and Jackson's injury -- to come back.
And in the end, when they needed it to most, their speedy superstar worked his magic, escaped potential tacklers and delivered.
It was shades of Westbrook, who scored a on an 84-yard punt return to beat the Giants 14-10 in the closing moments on Oct. 19, 2003, and Edwards, whose 26-yard fumble return for a touchdown on Nov. 19, 1978, also stunned New York at the old Meadowlands -- prompting the Miracle at the Meadowlands nickname.
Heck, Philly heroes Cliff Lee and Rocky Balboa would've applauded Jackson's effort.
"After I fumbled, Mike Vick just told me to keep my head up," said Jackson, who had three receptions for 52 yards. "He told me, 'You gonna get one. You gonna get one. You gonna get one.'
"And we got one."
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPN New York.com.