By Will Robinson
Almost there: six done, two to go. Here’s the NFC East. Plus, check out the other previews.
>By Will Robinson
Week 15 of the NFL season was one of the best of the year. There were plenty of marquee games that lived up to the hype before the week started and the playoff picture is becoming much clearer; Detroit travelled down to Tampa and upset Josh Freeman and his Bucs; Baltimore edged out a win against New Orleans; Indianapolis defeating Jacksonville to stay in the AFC South race; Sexy Rexy leading the Redskins to a close defeat against Dallas; the Jets getting back on track with a clutch win in Pittsburgh; and the Matt Flynn-led Packers giving the Patriots a harder test than they have had recently. However, no game matched the final 8:13 that transpired in the New York Giants vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.
This is the greatest comeback in recent memory, and the best one I have seen occur live. The Eagles were unquestionably rolled during the first three quarters, and chances of victory were as close to zero percent as it can be when one is down by three touchdowns with just over eight minutes remaining.
After Eli Manning threw a touchdown pass to push the Giants ahead to a 31-10 lead, the Eagles started their drive at their 25. After a ten yard reception by Jeremy Maclin, Michael Vick threw a laser to tight end Brent Celek. Justin Tuck, a defensive end who was covering Celek, missed the ball while trying to deflect it, as safety Kenny Phillips came from up top to try to swat it and over pursued Celek. Celek ran in and scored. 65 yards. Two plays, 75 yards, 40 seconds, seven points.
Immediately following the touchdown, Akers kicked a surprise onside kick that bounced off the turf, which rookie receiver Riley Cooper caught on the 41. The Eagles stole another possession to try to get the game closer.
On the ensuing drive, on 1st and 10, Vick eluded safety Grant Deon on a blitz, and ran down the middle and cut right for a 35-yard scramble. Two plays later, Vick scored on a four-yard quarterback draw. Five plays, 57 yards, two minutes, seven points. 5:28 left in the game, the Eagles were now down by a touchdown, 31-24.
The Giants’ next drive at up a good chunk of time, but they could have used more. The Eagles used all three of their timeouts on this drive, but ran out after an Ahmad Bradshaw run for loss on first down. New York ran it the next play, and then Eli threw it away on third down. The Eagles still had three minutes left.
The next Philly drive began on their 12-yard line. After two incompletions, Vick showed signs of his vintage self with another 30+-yard scramble along the left side of the field, to avoid a fourth down deep in their own territory with no timeouts. After a Jason Avant 13 yard reception and another run by Vick (22 yards, this time), Vick hit Maclin on the left side of the field. Maclin juked his defender on a turn and ran to find pay dirt. Improbably, the Eagles tied the game. There was still 1:16 for the Giants, though. There was a chance they could stop their rival’s comeback short.
The Giants started with good position at their own 36. Manning threw two incomplete passes to start the drive. Then, on third down, the one thing that an offense does not want to allow on third down, they do. Defensive tackle Trevor Laws broke through and sacked Manning. There’s about 55 seconds left, so the Giants burn as much time as they can and call a timeout. They bring out rookie punter Matt Dodge to send the ball deep into Philadelphia territory, and the Eagles bring out their most dangerous weapon, DeSean Jackson, to return the punt. 14 seconds left.
The snap to Dodge is high and to the left. Dodge jumps up to grab it, shifts his body to the right, and kicks away the ball. The punt was probably the worst punt possible in this scenario. The ball only travelled 35 yards to Jackson, who muffed the pickup. Jackson picked up the ball, took a few steps back, and allowed the special teamers to pursue him. Jackson found space in the middle of the players and shot forward. Jackson accelerated past everyone and leaves them all behind in his wake as he ran for the end zone. He ran along the touchline, a la Stokely, but with no time left in the game. Jackson committed the first walk off punt return touchdown in NFL history.
As I said, this ending was unbelievable and definitely the best of the year. Even though the Eagles should not have been in this situation to begin with, Michael Vick made plays I highly doubt Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb could have made (notably the runs he made and buying time in the pocket). This game proves one thing above others: the Eagles should never be counted out of a game with Michael Vick helming the team. He has more weapons than he has ever had in his career. Even though he had success with McNabb, Reid has found his muse with Vick. They are multidimensional enough as teams can’t blitz Vick often because he can run away if the blocking works out. LeSean McCoy is a new Brian Westbrook and can carry the ball 20 times if need be. Jackson and Maclin are two of the biggest down the field weapons in the game right now, and they are perfectly suited to be on the receiving end of Vick’s cannon of an arm. This game pushes the Eagles as one of my favorites to represent the NFC in Dallas in 2011. The Falcons still look sharp, but Vick is beyond dynamic enough for me to bet against him.
On the other hand, this was a terrible collapse by the Giants. The blame should not fall exclusively on the punter Dodge, but the defense, after being dominant for the first three quarters, could not slow down the Eagles. Additionally, the offense was stagnant after the Kevin Boss touchdown. The run game was not up to par as it has been the entire year, but Manning was able to pass all over the field. I think the Giants can recover from this and clinch a Wild Card spot, but they need to figure it out fast.
This weekend was full of some other fantastic plays, so check these other two.