December 19, 2010
Though the New York Giants had blown a seemingly insurmountable 21-point fourth quarter lead over the Philadelphia Eagles, things weren't as bad as they seemed. The game was tied with 14 seconds left and all New York had to do was kick a routine punt, watch the Eagles take a knee and then go into overtime, where they'd be able to reset, relax and focus on winning the pivotal NFC East matchup.
Surely nothing could go wrong ... right?
That's the play of the NFL season so far. It was as improbable as the Jaguars' miracle Hail Mary, but vastly more important in terms of playoff positioning. It changes the dynamics of the entire NFC race, putting Philly in prime position to earn a first-round bye and forcing the Giants to scramble for a wild-card berth.
Some other thoughts:
2. For as much credit as Jackson receives, he never, never, never should have been in a position to make that return. (Never.) The punt by Matt Dodge(notes) was atrocious. It was short and low and didn't give the Giants special teamers a chance to get to Jackson in time. If you're going to punt to anyone there, kick it high and force a fair catch. Or, better yet, kick it out of bounds.
3. This is what Giants coach Tom Coughlin seemed to be saying after the game. Though my lip-reading skills leave a little to be desired, it appeared that Coughlin was demanding to know why Dodge didn't angle the ball to the sideline, away from Jackson. It's a logical question. Why bother giving a potent return threat like Jackson the opportunity to run in an open field? He caught the ball with 10 seconds remaining in the game. Punt out of bounds and, at most, the Eagles would have had one Hail Mary shot to win the game. (With Vick and Jackson, that could have still resulted in a touchdown, but a far less likely one.)
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4. Besides the miserable punt, the best thing that could have happened to Jackson was taking his eyes off the ball and bobbling his catching of the ball. Mistakes like that cause defenders to get out of position and converge on one spot rather than staying at home and waiting for the player to come to them. Sometimes the best returns are the ones that start out disastrously.
5. Some have already criticized Coughlin for chastising Dodge on the field. That's nonsense. The punter may be a rookie, but he's a professional athlete getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do one job: punt. He failed at that, and failed miserably. That was a 36-yard line drive to one of the best return men in the game. That can't happen.
As a result of the terrible kick, the Giants lost an opportunity to win the game in overtime and will likely have to go on the road for a run at the Super Bowl (if they can hold on for a playoff spot.) Dodge messed up, not Coughlin. This wasn't a college coach showing up a young, amateur athlete. It was a coach holding a professional responsible for an error that could alter the entire dynamic of a season.
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6. Save some blame for New York special teams coach Tom Quinn. The Eagles are never in a position to win the game with the Jackson return if Quinn's kickoff unit hadn't been so woefully unprepared for an Eagles onside kick midway through the fourth quarter. At that point in the game, I was following the action on Yahoo! Sports' GameTracker and even I thought to myself, "so I guess they'll be doing an onside kick here." The Giants appeared to have no idea.
7. It's no small feat that Michael Vick isn't the most unlikable player on the Eagles. Jackson, with his end zone antics and love of taunting opponents (he raised the ball at the 30-yard line), is quickly becoming one of the most despised players in the NFL outside of Philadelphia. The running parallel to the end zone might have been cool if Jackson hadn't already, you know, dropped the ball doing the same exact thing a few years ago. (Maybe he was running out the clock, even though it had expired when he crossed the 25-yard line. But Jackson doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. He's not Brian Westbrook(notes).) Yet the young receiver seems to relish in his burgeoning bad boy reputation, which actually makes it a little respectable. Give me a player who knows he's disliked (Deion Sanders in his prime) and embraces it rather than one who has no understanding of it (LeBron James).
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