NEW YORK (AP) – DeSean Jackson’s dash to the end zone was one for the ages, a stunning capper to an incredible comeback for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jackson scored on a 65-yard punt return on the final play of the game — “The Miracle at the New Meadowlands” — and the Eagles scored 28 points in the final 7:28 to beat the deflated New York Giants 38-31 on Sunday and take over first place in the NFC East.
“By far, this is one of the greatest comebacks of my career, being down by such a huge deficit,” said quarterback Michael Vick, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another.
And, he can thank Jackson — as well as Giants punter Matt Dodge.
Dodge lined up to punt with 14 seconds to play and the rookie got off a line-drive kick, instead of booting it out of bounds. Jackson bobbled it at his 35 and once he regained control, broke through the initial line of coverage and sped down the right sideline.
“I’ve never been around anything like this in my life,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It’s about as empty as you get to feel in this business, right there.”
The electrifying finish left the Eagles (10-4) alone in first place in the NFC East, one game ahead of the Giants (9-5).
While Philadelphia moved closer to clinching a playoff spot, Atlanta got in with the Giants’ loss and the Falcons’ 34-18 win at Seattle. Pittsburgh is also in the postseason, despite falling 22-17 to the New York Jets.
Matt Ryan threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns and Jonathan Babineaux recovered a fumble for a touchdown as the Falcons (12-2) won their eighth straight game, their longest winning streak since the 1998 Super Bowl season. Ryan had touchdown throws of 3 yards to Jason Snelling, 24 to Michael Jenkins and 5 to Roddy White, who finished with seven catches.
“It’s special,” White said. “We have a special group around here.”
At Pittsburgh, Mark Sanchez stood up to the pressure created by the Steelers’ defense and his team’s two-game losing streak, scrambling for the Jets’ first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters and leading a decisive field-goal drive as New York won 22-17.
The Jets (10-4) held on to win even as Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers (10-4) from their own 8 to New York’s 10 in the final 2:08, only to throw incomplete on the final two plays.
Despite losing, the Steelers were told by the NFL nearly an hour after the game ended that they secured a playoff spot via a series of complicated strength-of-schedule tiebreakers.
At East Rutherford, N.J., the stunning turn of events brought back thoughts of Joe Pisarcik’s fumble in 1978 — the original “Miracle at the Meadowlands.” The Giants quarterback botched a handoff at the end of the game, allowing the Eagles’ Herm Edwards to scoop up the loose ball and run in for the winning points.
This time, the showstopper was Jackson.
Coughlin tossed the papers in his hand to the ground and confronted Dodge after the play, clearly agitated.
“I’ll take full responsibility for the last play,” Coughlin said. “With him back there, you don’t punt the ball to him.”
They did, and the play will go down in NFL lore as the only game-winning punt return on the final play from scrimmage.
Philadelphia swept the season series with New York (9-5) and only needs to win one of its final two games or have New York lose one of its two.
Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes, including an 8-yarder to Kevin Boss with 8:17 to play to help the Giants open a 31-10 lead.
Falcons 34, Seahawks 18
At Seattle, Jamaal Anderson forced a fumble by QB Matt Hasselbeck in the end zone on the first offensive play of the second half for the Seahawks (6-8). Anderson appeared to get away with a facemask penalty on the play, but Babineaux came out of the scrum with the TD.
Hasselbeck threw two interceptions and was eventually replaced by Charlie Whitehurst, but Seattle remains tied with St. Louis on top of the NFC West.
Jets 22, Steelers 17
At Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger repeatedly kept the final drive going, finding rookie Emmanuel Sanders for 29 yards on third-and-24, Mike Wallace for 18 on third-and-10 and Antonio Brown for 16 on third-and-10. The Steelers had to go for a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal because Mewelde Moore was tackled in the end zone for a safety with 2:38 remaining.
Pittsburgh owns the division tiebreaker and will beat out Baltimore (10-4) for the AFC North title if it defeats Carolina on Thursday and Cleveland on Jan. 2.
Patriots 31, Packers 27
At Foxborough, Mass., Dan Connolly rumbled 71 yards for what is believed to be the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman in NFL history, Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and New England won its sixth straight.
The Patriots, who had outscored their previous two opponents 81-10, had their hands full even with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers missing the game with a concussion. Matt Flynn threw his first three pro touchdown passes in his place.
The game went down to the final play when Flynn, with the ball at the Patriots’ 15-yard line, lost it and Vince Wilfork recovered for New England (12-2). Green Bay (8-6) trails Chicago by 1½ games in the NFC North.
Colts 34, Jaguars 24
At Indianapolis, Peyton Manning threw two touchdown passes and Donald Brown ran for another score as the Colts stayed in the playoff hunt. The Colts (8-6) share the AFC South lead with Jacksonville (8-6) and can clinch a seventh division title in eight years by winning their last two games.
Jacksonville had a chance to secure the title with a victory, but again failed to sweep the season series. The Jags have never won two straight against Indy.
Ravens 30, Saints 24
At Baltimore, Ray Rice ran for 153 yards and scored two touchdowns, and the Ravens (10-4) ended New Orleans’ six-game winning streak. Coming in, Rice hadn’t had a run of more than 30 yards and reached the 100-yard mark only once.
Drew Brees went 29 for 46 for 267 yards for the Saints (10-4). The defending Super Bowl champions had not lost since Oct. 24 and had scored at least 30 points in five straight games.
Raiders 39, Broncos 23
At Oakland, Calif., Jason Campbell threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Marcel Reece and Jacoby Ford scored on a 71-yard run to help the Raiders (7-7) overcome Tim Tebow’s two long touchdowns in his first career start.
Oakland trails Kansas City by two games in the AFC West and will need to win the final two games and get help in order to win the division. Denver fell to 3-11.
Tebow became the third player to throw a TD pass of at least 30 yards and run for a score of at least 40 yards in the same game.
Bills 17, Dolphins 14
At Miami, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes and the resurgent Bills eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention.
Buffalo (4-10) won for the fourth time in six games after starting 0-8. Miami (7-7) is 1-6 at home and 6-1 on the road. No NFL team has ever had such a disparity, according to STATS LLC.
Bengals 19, Browns 17
At Cincinnati, Cedric Benson ran for a season-high 150 yards and a touchdown, and the Bengals (3-11) ended a 10-game losing streak that matched the longest in franchise history.
Cincinnati took a straight-ahead approach against the Browns (5-9), who clinched their 10th losing record in 12 years since returning as an expansion team.
Lions 23, Buccaneers, 20, OT
At Tampa, Fla., Dave Rayner’s third field goal, a 34-yarder with 9:51 left in overtime, allowed Detroit to end the longest road losing streak in NFL history at 26 games.
Rayner kicked a 28-yarder as time expired in regulation to force the extra period for the Lions (4-10), who won on the road for the first time since a 16-7 victory at Chicago on Oct. 28, 2007.
The Bucs (8-6) kicked two fourth-quarter field goals to go ahead 20-17 with 1:39 remaining left in regulation.
Panthers 19, Cardinals 12
At Charlotte, N.C., Jimmy Clausen outplayed John Skelton in a matchup of rookie quarterbacks, John Kasay kicked four field goals, and Carolina snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Clausen threw only his second TD pass of the season in his first win in eight starts. Jonathan Stewart rushed for 137 yards and the Panthers (2-12) gave embattled coach John Fox a win in likely his final home game.
The Cardinals (4-10) mustered 218 yards in their eighth loss in nine games.
Titans 31, Texans 17
At Nashville, Tenn., Kerry Collins threw for two touchdowns and 237 yards and Chris Johnson ran for a TD and 130 yards as Tennessee snapped a six-game losing streak.
With the win and Indianapolis downing Jacksonville 34-24, the Titans (6-8) keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
The Texans (5-9) have lost seven of their last eight.
Cowboys 33, Redskins 30
At Arlington, Texas, David Buehler made a 39-yard field goal with 50 seconds left, giving Dallas a win that was a lot tougher than it had to be.
The Cowboys led 27-7 early in the third quarter and 30-14 at the start of the fourth. By pulling it out, Dallas (5-9) improved to 4-2 under interim coach Jason Garrett, guaranteeing no worse than a break-even finish in his tenure.
Washington (5-9) lost its fourth straight and sixth in the last seven. New starting quarterback Rex Grossman — replacing Donovan McNabb — tied his career high with four touchdown passes, but the game ended with him throwing an interception.
Chiefs 17, Rams 13
At St. Louis, Matt Cassel returned to the lineup 11 days after an emergency appendectomy and threw a touchdown pass, and Jamaal Charles scored on a short run that helped clinch it with a late 80-yard burst for the Chiefs (9-5), who retained a one-game lead over San Diego in the AFC West.
Thomas Jones became the NFL’s 25th player to rush for 10,000 yards.
The Rams fell to 6-8.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.