With 8:09 left in the fourth quarter, it appeared that the 2010 NFC East title would belong to the New York Giants.
Eli Manning had just hit tight end Kevin Boss on an 8-yard touchdown to put the Giants up 31-10. It was Manning's fourth touchdown pass of the day, and was even more disheartening for the Eagles because it came off a turnover that should have never been. The officials ruled that DeSean Jackson fumbled on the Birds' previous possession, even though replays showed that Jackson had been touched by Giants linebacker Jonathan Goff. Andy Reid, however, decided to not throw the challenge flag, later admitting that he had goofed.
What happened after that, though, will go down as one of the more memorable stretches in this franchise's history.
The Celek TD: The Eagles set up from their own 35, and Michael Vick had to deal with a Giants blitz. New York sent five defenders his way as right defensive end Osi Umenyiora dropped back into coverage. King Dunlap picked up one blitzer, and LeSean McCoy got in front of the other. Max Jean-Gilles, Mike McGlynn and Todd Herremans did their jobs against two rushers up the middle. And Jason Peters had no trouble with Chris Canty.
Vick surveyed the field quickly and found Brent Celek open over the middle. The ball traveled about 34 yards in the air as Giants safety Kenny Phillips was late to close and failed to make a tackle. Celek reversed field, heading for the far right corner of the end zone with Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas giving chase. At right about the 15-yard line, Jeremy Maclin drove his right shoulder into Thomas' chest and sent him to the turf at the New Meadowlands Stadium. Defensive end Justin Tuck gave Celek a little shove in the back, but it was too late. He was already in the end zone, and the Eagles had cut the lead to 31-17.
The onside kick: With 7:28 left, the Eagles found themselves down by two touchdowns.
I remember listening to Bobby April once talk about picking the right time to execute an onside kick. The Eagles' special-teams coach talked about the stress associated with a head coach agreeing to try it. Why? Because if the attempt fails, it's all on April. It's a nerve-wracking situation.
But April will instead receive praise this time around. The Eagles set up as if they were going to kick the ball away. David Akers struck the ball, and it took one quick, short bounce, before rocketing into the air to the near side of the field. Eagles rookie Riley Cooper, listed at 6-foot-3, was waiting for it. He jumped up at the 40-yard line, ensuring that the ball went at least 10 yards, and made the catch, landing at the 43.
And just like that, another step had been taken. The Eagles now had possession at their own 43 with all three timeouts remaining.
Vick takes over: On first down, Vick settled in the pocket and found Jackson for a 13-yard catch and run.
On the very next play, the Giants brought the house. Not five, not six, but seven defenders all gunning for Vick. Three down linemen; linebacker Michael Boley; Justin Tuck standing up; safety Deon Grant; and Phillips coming from the slot.
The Eagles simply did not have enough players to pick up the blocks. They were lined up with three wide receivers and sent Celek into a pattern also. That left five linemen and McCoy (six players total) to block seven Giants defenders. The Eagles did the best they could, actually picking up six of them flawlessly. But the seventh was Grant. He came flying in untouched between Jean-Gilles and Dunlap. It looked like he'd deliver a big shot on Vick.
But as he's done all season, Vick somehow eluded him. At this point, he had dropped back about 9 yards from the original line of scrimmage. He cocked his arm back ever so slightly as Grant decided to aim up high and bat the ball down. But Vick held onto it, ducked, and just like that, took off. Lineman Jason Pierre-Paul had a shot at him behind the line of scrimmage, but couldn't keep up. Boley gave chase, but was unsuccessful also. Six seconds later, Vick attempted a slide, and the Eagles had the ball at the Giants' 9-yard line after a 35-yard gain.
After a pair of incompletions sandwiched around an offsides penalty on the Giants, the Eagles had a 3rd-and-4 at the Giants' 4-yard line. Vick lined up in the shotgun and took off to his left. Herremans blocked the defensive tackle. Celek and Peters combined to seal Umenyiora. McCoy met Grant head on with the key block. And Jean-Gilles pulled from the right side. Safety Antrel Rolle had a shot at Vick behind the line of scrimmage, and dove at his feet, but he couldn't bring him down.
Touchdown Eagles. 31-24.
Defensive stop No. 1: The Eagles' defense had been picked apart to the tune of 24 first-half points. But with 5:28 left, the game rest in their hands.
The Giants picked up a first down and forced the Eagles to use three of their timeouts. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs entered the game averaging 5.9 and 5.4 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, respectively. However, a false start and a Bradshaw 3-yard run set up 3rd-and-8.
Manning entered the game with a 52.9 QB rating on third down, but he had killed the Eagles all day. Sean McDermott decided this was not the time to get conservative. He sent JaMar Chaney, Ernie Sims and Kurt Coleman after Manning, dropping Juqua Parker into coverage. Coleman found room between the left guard and the left tackle, getting in Manning's face untouched, but not before he had let go of the ball. He was looking for wide receier Derek Hagan, but the ball was nowhere near him, sailing out of bounds, and the Eagles were still alive.
Vick takes over (part two): A fair catch by Maclin gave the Eagles the ball at their own 11. 3:11 on the clock. No timeouts left. Down by 7. And in many ways, the season on the line.
The drive didn't start out well. Vick had time in the pocket and looked for Celek on what would have been at least a 20-yard gain, but his throw was off-target. After scrambling and throwing incomplete, the Eagles found themselves with a 3rd-and-10.
The Giants once again brought pressure. And once again, there were seven guys gunning for Vick. Four down linemen; Rolle; cornerback Aaron Ross; and Boley. And once again, the Eagles had only six guys to block them.
This time, it was Boley who broke through untouched, chasing Vick out of the pocket to his left. He took off, making a wide angle to the sideline. Boley saw only the back of his jersey. Ross too. Six seconds after he took off, Vick was pushed out of bounds at the Eagles' 45-yard line after a gain of 33 yards.
There was now 2:41 left with 55 yards to go. Vick dropped back and looked to be trying to set up a screen to McCoy, but the Giants sniffed it out. Instead, he rolled to his left, threw across his body and found Jason Avant for a gain of 13, just as Pierre-Paul nailed him in the midsection.
After a pass was batted down, the Eagles had 2nd-and-10 from the Giants' 42 with 2:07 left. This time, the Giants brought six. Vick dropped back, and somehow saw a lane up the middle. Pierre-Paul dove hoplessly at his feet but couldn't bring him down. Vick picked up the first down and more, gaining 22 yards and setting up a 1st-and-10 from the Giants' 20.
He completed a 7-yard pass to Celek as time ticked down to 1:22. The Giants once again sent a blitz, this time rushing five. And the Eagles were ready for it. McCoy had no trouble meeting Grant head-on as Vick released the ball quickly.
Maclin, who's been the Eagles' best red-zone receiver all season, made the catch at the 6, spun upfield, made Thomas miss and scampered into the end zone.
Defensive stop No. 2: Oh, but it wasn't over yet. The Giants fielded a short kick and ran it back to their own 36. Realistically, they needed to pick up about 30 yards for a shot at a long field goal. There was still 1:10 left, and New York had all three timeouts remaining. Another challenge for the Eagles' D.
On first down, McDermott sent Sims and Chaney as the Eagles rushed six. Manning looked to Hagan on his right, but Trevor Laws tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage.
On second down, McDermott brought five. Sims came once again, Laws brought good pressure against two defenders up the middle, and Cole had good pressure off the edge. Manning looked over the middle for Boss, but overthrew him. The ball landed into the hands of a diving Quintin Mikell, but he couldn't hold on. A pick would have given the offense the ball at its own 42 with about one minute left and a chance to drive for the game-winning field goal.
But instead, the Giants got another shot. This time, McDermott switched it up. No blitz. Just a four-man rush: Parker, Laws, Darryl Tapp and Cole. Parker got good pressure off the edge. Tapp twisted around Laws from the right side to the left, and Laws simply broke through two defenders, landing at Manning's feet and bringing him down for the sack and a 7-yard loss.
DeSean's 'Miracle': I think you know what happened next. Punter Matt Dodge fielded a high snap and kicked it right to Jackson, who fumbled the ball at the Eagles' 34. By the time he picked it up, there was a crowd around him. Special teamer Duke Calhoun dove at his feet, but drew air. Omar Gaither, shoved Chase Blackburn, who ran into another Giants defender, who ran into Grant. Just like that, the domino effect took three Giants out of the play. At the Eagles' 38, Bear Pascoe had a shot, but Jackson made him miss. At the Eagles' 45, Dodge dove at Jackson's feet, but came up with nothing.
With four seconds showing on the clock, Jackson was at midfield with two men to beat. Avant delivered a crushing block on Zak DeOssie at the Eagles' 47. And Jackson outran DJ Ware.
Final score: Eagles 38, Giants 31.
In the last 8:09 of the game, the Eagles got three touchdowns on offense and two stops on defense They executed an onside kick and ran a punt back for a touchdown.
A complete team effort that has them at 10-4 and in great position to win the NFC East and possibly earn a first-round bye.