So, really, which is a bigger Meadowlands miracle? Coming back from 21 points down to win, capping it with a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown? Or winning with Vince Young and Riley Cooper standing in for Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin?
Often, when forced to play without its better players, a team will focus and play above its collective head.
Clearly, this is what happened Sunday night in East Rutherford.
No Vick. No Maclin.
No way the Eagles could win.
Unless . . .
The defense played out of its mind; the offense got a couple of big plays; and, somewhere, intangibles rendered themselves tangible.
Without Vick, this became DeSean Jackson’s team.
DeSean Jackson, petulant and tardy, was suspended last week after a series of unacceptable incidents pushed Andy Reid to bench him.
Jackson last week admitted his contract status had affected him; he wants top-flight money and years, and he held out of training camp in a failed attempt to secure an extension.
However, he promised to not repeat those incidents. He practiced intensely . . . and everyone followed.
“He’s a leader,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
“All week at practice,” Young marveled. “He told y’all how he feels, how he is going to be a team player and all these different things. He did that all week in practice. He was studying. Then he brought it to the game, and you guys saw that.”
In his sincere praise, Young inadvertently betrayed two truths about Jackson.
For one, Jackson clearly has not been studying as much, or as completely, as he could have been.
Also, Jackson did not practice hard, and he did not play hard.
For weeks, the Eagles excused Jackson’s poor production. They said he was blanketed, that he was unavailable.
They lied. He wasn’t working hard. He wasn’t playing hard.
No team wanted to shut down Jackson more than the Giants, whom he beat last year with that 65-yard punt return, taunting them as he lingered at the goal line. They limited him to two catches and 30 yards in the teams’ first meeting, a Week 3 Eagles loss.
Even without the threat of Maclin, out with hamstring and shoulder injuries, Jackson caught six passes for 88 yards on Sunday. His 60-yard punt return just before halftime set up the Eagles’ first touchdown and gave the Birds a 10-0 lead.
He overcame knee and foot injuries suffered during the game. He also lost a 50-yard reception to a taunting penalty. And he lost 6 yards on a punt return, recalling a similar punt return 2 weeks before in the loss to the Bears.
Jackson’s importance to the Eagles cannot be overstated. He opens the offense for everyone, especially Maclin — after all, Riley Cooper, who didn’t have a catch this season, stepped in for Maclin on Sunday and had five catches for 75 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Reid knows what Jackson brings. He repeated it time and again after the game:
Regardless of who plays next week — Young and Cooper, Vick and Maclin — said Young: “We’ve got to keep this same kind of excitement that we had [Sunday].”
That’s up to Jackson.
Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg snorted at the idea that LeSean McCoy was used as a sacrificial lamb to keep the Giants honest or to keep the heat off Vince Young.
The Birds just didn’t run the ball well.
It might have had something to do with the absence of Michael Vick, who often draws a linebacker as a spy ... which, at least, freezes one defender until he is certain McCoy has the ball.
It might have had something to do with the more conventional, all-out style of pass rush the Giants employed against Young. Teams usually mush-rush Vick, the ends loathe to collapse the pocket lest Vick break contain and romp for 40 yards. A mush-rush keeps defenders out of the backfield.
Mostly, though, it had to do with the Giants’ line overpowering the Eagles’ lighter, less-seasoned line.
“They shut down our run game pretty good,” Mornhinweg said. “You don’t run to set anything up.”
McCoy managed just 53 yards on 22 carries before he busted a 60-yarder against a pinching Giants defense, which iced the game.
McCoy also picked up blitzes twice on the game-winning drive.
Call of the game
Marty Mornhinweg dialed up a counter handoff to Ronnie Brown, who lined up in the slot, a huge third-and-3 conversion at the Eagles’ 27, the first conversion of six on their 18-play, game-winning drive.
Catch of the year
Jason “Allstate” Avant somehow stopped, turned back and caught a dying quail centimeters above the turf, inches past diving defender Dave Tollefson, to turn second-and-16 into third-and-3, perhaps the best play of the winning drive.