Giants self-destruct in loss to Eagles

The New York Giants did it again. This time, it likely cost them more than an embarrassing highlight.

Thirty-two years after Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled away a sure victory to Philadelphia at the old Meadowlands Stadium in one of the NFL’s most memorable bloopers, the Giants gave away a game to the visiting Eagles on Sunday in one of the NFL’s most monumental collapses — and may miss the playoffs because of it.

Leading by 21 points with less than eight minutes to play in a game that likely decided the NFC East champion, the Giants surrendered four consecutive touchdowns, the final a 65-yard punt return by the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson as time expired, and lost a stunner at the New Meadowlands Stadium, 38-31.

Call it the Miracle in the Meadowlands Part Deux.

The win leaves the Eagles (10-4) a game up on the Giants (9-5) with two to play and holding the tiebreaker, having swept the season series. The Giants now appear to be in a dogfight with New Orleans, Chicago, Green Bay and Tampa Bay for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.

On Sunday, the Eagles were seemingly dead in the water after Giants quarterback Eli Manning hit tight end Kevin Boss on an 8-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-10 with 8:17 to play. However, the Eagles mounted their furious charge with the team-record 28 points in the final 7:28, a run which included two Michael Vick touchdown passes and a Vick scoring run before Jackson’s return.

The outcome is sure to leave the Giants and their fans with numerous questions. And at the top of that list: Why punt to the Eagles — and the NFL’s most dangerous big-play maker — when the Eagles had no timeouts left?

“I’ll take full responsibility for that last play,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. “The young punter (rookie Matt Dodge) was told to punt it out of bounds and he got a high snap and didn’t feel like he could and we all learned the hard way again. At that point in the game, with (Jackson) back there, you don’t punt into that.”

Even Eagles head coach Andy Reid was surprised that the Giants kicked the ball to Jackson.

“I was happy they did. I was happy they did,” Reid said.

Jackson actually contributed to the Boss touchdown earlier in the fourth, fumbling on a 30-yard reception to set up that score. All he wanted was a chance to atone.

“Honestly man, it’s a blessing, it’s a dream come true,” the third-year receiver said. “Actually sitting back there looking at 12 seconds right before the referee came back and put the extra two seconds on, not that it mattered or whatever but I’m just sitting back there and thinking to myself like, ‘They’re really not going to kick it to me.’ I was thinking that he was going to kick it out of bounds or do something out of the ordinary, but it was a blessing.”

Dodge, who has come under fire several times this season for mistakes, said after the game that he knew the ball had to be punted out of bounds, not to the NFL’s most dangerous receiver.

“Just extremely frustrated,” Dodge responded when asked about his emotions after the game. “I feel like I had a good game all game, putting it where I wanted to, and sometimes you try so hard to do something — get it out of bounds — and you just lose your head. And that’s kind of what happened.”

But the meltdown began long before that punt.

Two possessions prior, after Vick’s 65-yard scoring pass to tight end Brent Celek to cut the deficit to 14 with 7:28 to play, the Giants failed to field an onside kick, giving the Eagles the ball back. The Giants thought there was too much time left to have the hands team in the game.

“We talked about the onside kick as a possibility,” Coughlin explained. “We didn’t put our hands team in there, no. There were still seven-and-a-half minutes to go and they were down two scores, so we didn’t think it was necessary to do that at that time. There was no reason for us not to make a better play on the ball. We didn’t have anybody even around the ball,” Coughlin explained.

Philadelphia got exactly what they were looking for at that point in the game from the Giants’ return formation.

“(Special teams coach) Bobby (April) did a great job with that,” Reid said. “That was a surprise onside. In other words, we didn’t have our hands people in there, you know our onside kick people in there. We had our normal crew in.”

The Eagles then drove 57 yards in two minutes, scoring on Vick’s 4-yard run to make it 31-24. The Giants were able to move the ball on the ensuing drive, but stalled at the Philadelphia 40 and punted. The Eagles went 88 yards in 1:45, with Vick finding Jeremy Maclin from 13 yards out to tie the game with 1:16 to play.

Many Giants players were stunned by the loss.

“I’m searching. I’ve never been part of anything like this,” defensive end Justin Tuck said.

“I don’t know what was taking place out there. I really don’t,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I just know that they were moving the ball and we weren’t stopping them. We were getting stopped — their defense stopping our offense. Their special teams stepped up and ours didn’t. At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. I think we played a great three-and-a-half quarters of football but we all know that in this league it takes four quarters to win football games. We didn’t do that.”

Philadelphia’s stunning come-from-behind victory was marred by another severe injury to one of their top draft selections. Second-round pick free safety Nate Allen suffered a torn patella tendon and will miss the rest of the season. Just two weeks ago, defensive end and first-round pick Brandon Graham suffered a torn ACL and was placed on injured reserve.

But Philadelphia will take this win and savior it. The Giants will always wonder what happened, possibly for many years to come.

“It’s hard to put a loss like this behind you. You keep thinking about something like this forever,” Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said.” We had so much on the line, but it’s a sport and it happens. You have to bounce back and that’s the good thing about it. We have two more games left, so we have an opportunity to bounce back, try to win out, make it an 11-win season and go from there.”

In 1978, when Herm Edwards scored on Pisarcik’s fumble with little time left to turn a 17-12 loss into a 19-17 Eagles win, there was no division title on the line. Still, New York’s season spiraled from there, the Giants finishing that season losing seven of eight and in last place. There will be no last-place finish this season. The question now: Can the Giants recover for a playoff spot?