It was all doom and gloom before Sunday night's game against the New York Giants. Vick and Maclin were out and the season was pretty much over. Both fan and team morale appeared to be low.
The Eagles, who have had to deal with high expectations which they’ve failed to meet all season, went into the Meadowlands in a rare position: the underdog. Yet the Birds embraced it and utilized it, leading to the most thrilling win of the season thus far.
It was the first regular season NFL start for Vince Young since November 10 of 2010. And it certainly showed at first.
Young struggled for a good portion of the game with inaccurate passes, leading to three interceptions. His first came 6 minutes into the first quarter. While wide receiver DeSean Jackson had Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara beat, Young under-threw the pass, leading to the pick.
Luckily for Young and the rest of the offense, the Eagles D came to play. And did they ever. The defense turned in without a doubt their most impressive performance of the year, pressuring Eli Manning the entire night.
After the Young interception, the Eagles returned the favor after Jamar Chaney picked off a pass intended for Victor Cruz.
The Eagles were unable to take advantage however, failing to convert on a 3rd and 1. Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson, maintained his reputation for having a flair for the dramatic. Starting after being listed as inactive for missing a team meeting last week, D-Jax was equal parts goat and hero against the Giants. He caught an under-thrown 32-yard pass from Young at the beginning of the third quarter but injured himself on the play. He was taken to the locker room where trainers evaluated his right knee.
A 33-yard field goal from Alex Henery put the Birds up 3-0.The offense got the ball back after another impressive showing form the defense. But the Birds failed to capitalize after Young’s pass intended for Clay Harbor appeared to bounce off the tight end’s helmet into the hands of Giants safety Kenny Phillips.
The Eagles D held strong and Jackson returned to the game in what would be a night that drew both cheers and groans from the Eagles faithful. D-Jax caught a deep pass from Young for 50 yards. It was called back however after Jackson flipped the ball to Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and began to taunt the team. He was given a taunting penalty, taking the Eagles all the way back near their end zone.
It was no doubt a stupid, boneheaded move from Jackson, known for getting into trouble because of his notorious showboating. The 50-yard penalty seemed rather excessive however, given the fact that it occurred after the play.
Jackson would later redeem himself however and give the Giants nightmarish Miracle at the Meadowlands flashbacks in the process.
He ran a 51-yard punt return with less than 2 minutes left in the half, stepping out of bounds at the 14-yard line.
Young then threw a 14-yard pass to former Giant Steve Smith to put the Birds up 10-0. It was Smith’s first touchdown of the year.
The Giants then closed the half with a 48-yard field goal from kicker Lawrence Tynes bringing the score to 10-3.
Defense continued to dominate in the third as both teams were held scoreless. While Young appeared to be more comfortable, he threw a critical red zone interception around the five minute mark.
All of this led to a scenario that has been the bane of the Birds existence the entire year: the fourth quarter.
It didn’t look good early on.
Manning completed a 47-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks on 3rd and 8. During the play, Giants offensive tackle Will Beatty appeared to hold Trent Cole, which went unchallenged. The missed call proved to be costly. Two plays later Victor Cruz burned Nnamdi Asomugha, catching a 24-yard touchdown pass from Manning.
With the game tied at 10 and around 12 minutes left, it seemed like déjà vu all over again. The stats didn’t look good. Going into Sunday’s game, the Eagles had blown five 4th quarter leads, tying an NFL record for a single season. Manning on the other hand has been the epitome of clutchness this year, leading his team to four 4th quarter comebacks.
Yet Sunday night’s game had one noticeable X-factor: Vince Young. While the quarterback’s career has been marred by disappointment and inconsistency, one thing that has remained constant is his ability to come through in the clutch. Before Sunday’s game, Young had completed 7 fourth quarter comebacks and 12 game-winning drives in his career. He would add to these impressive numbers during a night when the Eagles needed it the most.
Young led the Birds down the field in an incredible 18-play, 80 yard drive, concluding with a short 8-yard TD pass to Riley Cooper. In all, Young completed six 3rd down conversions and went 7 for 9 for 67 yards in 8 minutes and 51 seconds. Given the shaky performance he was having prior to the drive, Young seemed to be doing his best Tim Tebow impression. Or, given Young’s career numbers, perhaps Tebow has been doing his best Vince Young impression.
Yet even with the 17-10 lead, the game was far from over. The Giants had the ball back with 2 minutes and 45 seconds left. The Meadowlands crowd roared after Manning completed a pass to Victor Cruz for a total of 47 yards with 1:30 left. All of this led to what will likely go down as the play of the year for the Birds. Defensive End Jason Babin sacked Manning and forced the fumble in a play that likely saved what little hope is left for a playoff appearance.
LeSean McCoy, who had been contained by the Giants all night, sealed the victory with a 60-yard run.
Will the Eagles win mean much in the long run this year? Probably not. Only truly extraordinary circumstances will lead to a post season appearance. Yet in a season that has thus far been defined by crushing disappointment, the Eagles managed to create something that has been in scant supply this year: hope.
Despite the obvious rustiness, Vince Young’s performance may also lead to a bit of intrigue and quarterback controversy, as he managed to do something that injured QB Mike Vick has failed to do all year; come through in the clutch. It’s an interesting dilemma given the fact that Vick is still a clearly better quarterback than Young. Our solution once Vick recovers? Play Mike 3 quarters and have Vince play the 4th.