After sitting out a week with a mild concussion, DeSean Jackson exploded back onto the scene to lead the Eagles to a 45-38 win over the arch rival Giants. On a night that the NBC experts were predicting would end with 3 NFC East teams standing at 8-5, the Eagles kept lighting up the scoreboard to prove them wrong and take sole possession of first place with a 9-4 record.
Jackson put on a show, scoring twice more from greater than 50 yards to add to his growing collection. Last night's effort tied an NFL seasonal record of 8 touchdowns of that length, with 3 games left on the schedule to add on further. First, he grabbed a punt, momentarily stepped backwards and then exploded up the left sideline 72 yards into the end zone. Later, seconds after the Giants had fought from behind to take a 31-30 lead, Jackson sprinted past defenders on a post pattern and took a 60 yard pass from Donovan McNabb in stride, back peddling the last 15 yards into the end zone.
Neither defense offered much resistance, but both offenses also looked sharp. The combined point total was the highest in 150 meetings over the long history of the match-up. The Giants controlled the ball for almost 35 minutes and racked up 512 yards in a losing effort. While the Eagles accumulated less yardage, this mainly traced to the punt return TD and a defensive score by Sheldon Brown taking them off the field.
With strong protection all night, Eli Manning played far differently than in the team's previous two meetings. Manning hit on 71% of his passes for 391 yards and 3 TD's. The Eagles defense aided his cause with some shoddy tackling, allowing both Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon to score on long catch and run plays. On the flip side, Manning completed some passes as he was being tackled and had a few excellent long throws dropped by his receivers.
As good as he was, Manning did hurt his own cause with a pair of fumbles, the first of which was very costly. After the Giants picked off a McNabb pass while trailing 30-24 in the 3rd quarter, Manning fumbled the ball back on the very next play at the Eagles 15 yard line. Upon getting the ball back, though, he hit Hixon for a 61 yard scoring strike that gave the Giants their first lead at 31-30.
This could have been a major turning point and sent many teams into a downward spiral after surrendering a pair of 14 point leads. McNabb showed his frustration when it occurred, but promptly took the field and fired the bomb to Jackson, and just 15 seconds later they were back on top.
At this point, the defenses stiffened and the teams traded 3 punts, the last of which pinning the Eagles back at their own 9 yard line. After deploying a deep passing game all evening, the Eagles proceeded to use a short passing game and ground attack to methodically move the ball down the field. They chewed up a large amount of the clock before Leonard Weaver pounded the ball in from the one to re-establish a 14 point lead.
For the second consecutive week, Michael Vick was a significant contributor both running and passing. Looking more athletic and faster like his days before being suspended, Vick connected with Jackson for 32 yards on a tight pass on their first drive and ran around left end for a touchdown in the 2nd period. The formation and Vick are both starting to show some promise that could prove helpful down the stretch.
McNabb had another solid game, accurately spreading the ball around, but clearly enjoyed having the home run hitter Jackson back in the line-up. For the game, the speedy receiver hauled in 6 passes for 178 yards. He now leads the NFL averaging a hefty 18.9 yards per reception and 17.8 yards per punt return. He is quickly establishing himself as one of the premier playmakers in the league.
Although the big win gives them sole possession of first place in the NFC East, both the Cowboys and Giants still have a shot. The former due to hosting the Eagles in the season finale, and the latter due to their schedule. It is easy to envision the Giants winning out as they play two losing teams finish with a Vikings team that will probably have no incentive to win. With their previous win in Philadelphia, the Cowboys would hold the tie breaker if they were to defeat the Eagles and end with the same record.
This Eagles offense is looking to be playoff worthy, and with continuing consistency and the possible return of Brian Westbrook, could prove to be Super Bowl worthy. Last night's performance on defense, however, will still keep Andy Reid and staff up at night if they want to have a shot at beating high powered teams like New Orleans, Minnesota or Arizona. The hope would be to get players settled back into normal roles with the return of missing players, but 500-plus yards and 38 points would suggest they have a lot of work to do. After all, as good as he is, it would be unreasonable to expect Jackson to be a highlight show every game...or maybe not.