Embarrassed that his Philadelphia Eagles trailed the rival New York Giants by three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Michael Vick said he wasn’t going to go home humiliated.
“We just said to ourselves, ‘Listen, we’re just going to go out there and play for pride above anything else,’” the Eagles’ quarterback told reporters yesterday. “They may beat us 49-25, but we’re going to play with pride, and we can’t complain. And that’s all I want.”
He got it. Vick led the Eagles to four touchdowns in the National Football League game’s final eight minutes, erasing a 21-point deficit in a 38-31 win in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The victory left Philadelphia alone in first place in the National Football Conference’s East Division.
“I’ll tell you what, my heart’s a little weaker after this one,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “He hung in there and he kept battling, got hit a few times and he came back with those long runs. Special.”
Vick completed 21 of 35 passes for 242 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Vick also ran for a touchdown and 130 yards -- 94 of them in the fourth quarter -- prompting Giants defensive end Justin Tuck to say he’d vote for Vick as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player if he could.
“Give him a lot of credit, he put his team on his back and really carried them to victory,” Tuck said.
Vick threw an interception on his second play of the game and finished the first half with six completions for 33 yards and 23 yards rushing. Eli Manning threw three of his four touchdown passes in the first half for the Giants, who attacked Vick with extra defenders and hit him multiple times.
“I got a little frustrated and felt like I was trying to do too much,” Vick said. “The coaches kept telling me, ‘Stay aggressive. Stay aggressive.’”
By the time receiver DeSean Jackson fumbled the ball away at midfield, leading to a Giants score that put New York ahead 31-10, Vick was trying to use that aggression to get the Eagles back into contention.
“I just knew we needed three touchdowns to be back in the game,” he said. “Every down counts. Every possession counts and you have to go out there and block everything else out.”
The Eagles’ first points in the fourth quarter came on a deep pass over the middle to tight end Brent Celek, who broke away for a 65-yard touchdown to bring the Eagles within two touchdowns. Vick said that’s when the game changed.
“Once we made a couple of plays downfield, I saw the momentum shift,” he said.
Philadelphia recovered an onside kick and Vick scrambled for 35 yards to put the Eagles in scoring position. Then he ran again for a 4-yard touchdown.
Vick’s Tying Toss
The Eagles’ offense returned to the field with about three minutes left. Vick broke away for runs of 33 and 22 yards before finding receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 13-yard touchdown pass. The extra point tied the game.
Now it was the Giants who were upset.
“That’s as frustrating as it gets for anybody, a defensive team or anyone, to be in position and to be doing what your responsibilities are and the quarterback just slithers his way out of there,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “He made huge plays against us.”
The winning play came down to Jackson.
When the Giants were forced to punt with 14 seconds left, rookie Matt Dodge’s kick went straight to Jackson -- something Coughlin said he’d hoped to avoid because of the receiver’s ability to break big plays. As the ball sailed overhead, Vick couldn’t believe the luck.
“I was saying to myself, ‘Why would he kick it to DeSean?’” Vick said.
Jackson fumbled the ball, recovered it, dodged a tackle and broke free for a 65-yard game-winning touchdown. He ran slowly cross-field along the length of the end zone to use up the remaining time before crossing the goal line.
It was the first time in NFL history a player had a game-winning punt return for a touchdown as time expired.
Afterward, Jackson praised Vick for leading the comeback.
“It’s such a blessing to have Mike Vick on our team,” he said. “Those big runs he was having were unbelievable, especially with the defense doing things purposely to stop him from running.”
Manning, running back Brandon Jacobs and offensive lineman David Diehl were among the Giants who said the loss was the worst they’d ever experienced. The Giants fell to 9-5 with the defeat and descriptions in the team’s locker room ranged from “frustrating” to “disastrous.”
‘Everything Went Downhill’
“You are up 21 in the fourth quarter feeling pretty good about your situation and then all of a sudden just everything went downhill,” Manning said. “Everything that could probably go wrong went wrong and you can’t have that. It wasn’t like they went out and just dominated us, we gave them the victory.”