EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Call it “The Great Escape.”
Michael Vick engineered it. DeSean Jackson capped it. And the Philadelphia Eagles have control of the NFC East firmly in their hands because of it.
Jackson scored on a 65-yard punt return on the last play of the game and the Eagles scored a team-record 28 points in the final 7:28 to stun the New York Giants 38-31 and take over first place in the NFC East.
“By far, this is one of the greatest comebacks of my career, being down by such a huge deficit,” Vick said after accentuating his candidacy for the MVP award by throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in the incredible late rally that all but clinched the division for the Eagles (10-4).
“We were able to come back in a short period of time,” added Vick, who threw for 242 yards and three touchdowns overall and ran for a game-high 130 yards. “It’s outstanding. I give a lot of credit to my teammates. I have to thank God for the opportunity but it was, by far, one of the best.”
The win gave the Eagles a sweep of the season series with New York (9-5). 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).
For Giants fans it brought back memories of “The Fumble” by Joe Pisarcik, the giveaway that allowed another group of Eagles to steal a late win in 1978 when all New York had to do was take a knee.
The loss left Giants coach Tom Coughlin so angry he threw his notes as Jackson backed into the end zone on his only punt return of game.
“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.”
Until the rally, Jackson was more worried about making the playoffs.
“I probably don’t even realize how big it is,” said Jackson, who battled a foot injury all week and told coach Andy Reid only to use him on punt returns if the game was on the line.
Reid gave him the signal — a whistle — before the last punt to get on the field. The rest is the final chapter in the great escape.
“This is a special one,” Reid said. “It was an exciting one. It was as exciting for you guys. It was a great day to be a Philadelphia writer.”
Atlanta clinched a playoff spot with the Giants’ loss.
Jackson’s winning return came with game seemingly headed for overtime with 14 seconds to play.
Rookie Matt Dodge, who had been instructed to punt the ball out of bounds, got a high snap and hurried to get his kick off. He hit a line drive kick that Jackson bobbled at his 35. Once he regained control, Jackson broke threw the initial wave of coverage and sped down the right sideline. It was apparent he was about to score, but instead of simply going into the end zone, he danced along the goal line before going in with zeros showing on the clock.
“I always try to do something out of the ordinary,” Jackson said. “I probably would have dove in from the 12-yard line if I could. I knew nobody was going to catch me. I look to do things for excitement. The fans pay for that. I just wanted to bring that out of them.”
As Jackson scored, the Eagles jumped on each other in a celebration they never could have expected. They were victimized by Eli Manning’s four touchdown passes, including an 8-yarder to Kevin Boss with 8:17 to play for a 31-10 lead.
This loss could cripple the Giants’ playoff hopes. They need to win out to clinch a postseason berth and the Packers’ game will be crucial, especially because the final playoff spot might come down to head to head with New York and Green Bay.
Vick started the comeback with a 65-yard scoring pass to tight end Brent Celek on which the Eagles caught defensive end Justin Tuck in coverage.
New York fell asleep on the ensuing kickoff and Riley Cooper recovered David Akers’ onside kick, a play on which the kicker may have been offside. A 13-yard pass to Jackson and a 35-yard run by Vick set up the quarterback’s 4-yard TD run with 5:28 to go, cutting the lead to 31-24.
New York had a chance to run out the clock, getting to a second-and-6 at the Eagles 38. However a procedure penalty forced a punt and the Eagles tied the game with an eight-play, 88-yard drive that featured scrambles of 33 and 22 yards by Vick. He eventually capped the series with a 13-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin with 1:16 to go.
“When you are a part of it as long as I have been, you see a lot of crazy things,” Giants’ 11-year veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “We had control the whole game, but that is why this game is so great. You have to play for 60 minutes, because in those 60 minutes anything can happen.”
It did, and the Eagles made it happen in what has been a sensational season for Vick a little more than a year and a half after being released from federal custody for his part in a dogfighting ring.
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 and only his fifth interception of the season.
Manning was given time by his line and made the most of it, leading New York on touchdown drives of 71, 73 and 8 yards, the last coming when 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 Nicks in the right corner 4 seconds later for a 24-3 halftime lead.
Manningham, limited all week in practice because of a hip flexor, showed up big-time on game day, catching touchdown passes of 35 and 33 yards to open a 14-3 lead.
Philadelphia’s defense set up its first three points. Darryl Tapp tipped a pass and Quintin Mikell intercepted at the Giants 45. An 11-yard scramble by Vick and a personal foul gave the Eagles a first down at the 19. They got a 34-yard field goal by Akers.
Manning made up for the mistake on the next series, capping a 73-yard drive with the 33-yard pass to Manningham, who motored the final 20 yards after Dimitri Patterson slipped.
NOTES: The punt return TD was the fourth of Jackson’s career. … The Eagles have rallied to win four of their last five games, outscoring opponents 79-21 in the fourth quarter of that span. It was the ninth time in NFL history a team trailed by 21 points in the fourth quarter and won the game, and the first by the Eagles. Their 28 fourth-quarter points were the most in team history.