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Lightning does strike twice

It should have never happened. Really, it never should have happened, but that is why we call it a miracle.

The first Miracle at the Meadowlands came in 1978 -- before Michael Vick was even born (more on that later) -- when I was a college student in my dorm room trying to recover from a Saturday night of partying and could not believe what I was seeing. The second miracle happened before my own eyes on Sunday, as I was on the field for the final five minutes of the Eagles' comeback win over the Giants, and much like in 1978, I did not believe what was happening.

The Giants dominated for 52 minutes. They did a great job of containing Vick in the pocket, not allowing big plays and controlling the game. But once they were up by 21 points, they let their guard down. Much like a boxer ahead on points forgets there are still rounds to fight, the Giants failed to follow the script and failed to finish the fight.

Re-airing on NFL Network:
NFL Network will re-air Sunday's Eagles-Giants game in its entirety on Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. ET.

» Complete NFL Network broadcast schedule

A three-touchdown advantage with eight minutes left meant all the Giants had to do was follow a standard script that everyone goes to with a huge lead. That includes making sure no big plays are allowed and no special teams mistakes -- onside kick, punt return, punt block or otherwise -- are made. However, the most critical aspect of the script is to not place the burden of winning on the defense. The offense must keep the chains moving and execute precisely. Getting a first down is as important as stopping the opponent from scoring. First downs are critical and the Giants only picked up two after the eight-minute mark.

The Giants did everything wrong, and I mean everything. The bad punt by rookie Matt Dodge was the killer, but equally as bad was Brent Celek's 65-yard touchdown just two plays after the Giants took a 31-10 lead. Then New York failed to handle the onside kick, not putting the "hands" team on the field.

With 7:28 to go and down two scores, the Eagles had to somehow gain a possession. Whether they attempted the onside kick at this point or later, they had to utilize the weapon. Everyone in the stadium -- with the exception of the Giants -- knew when New York went up 21 it became an onside-kick game.

Yet, in spite of all the mistakes to this point, the Giants still had a chance to put the game away with solid offensive execution and play calls. Throughout the game, the Giants handled the Eagles' pressure package well. With the game on the line, they had to make great calls combined with great execution. The Giants got two first downs and then had to punt. Fans can blame Dodge for not kicking the ball out of bounds, they can blame the defense for the collapse. For me, the real blame lands with the offense not being able to, as Dandy Don Meredith used to say, "Turn out the lights."

Brian Garfinkel / Associated Press
DeSean Jackson's punt return for a touchdown on Sunday was the NFL's first walk-off TD return in the last quarter of a century.
Winning kick or punt returns for TD in final 2:00 (last 25 seasons, including playoffs)
Year
Team
Player
Opp.
Yds
Time
2010
65*
0:00
1999
75
0:03
1986
83*
0:41
2003
Brian Westbrook
84*
1:16
* Punt return

In the league today, the lead must be protected with your offense, not just with the defense. Stopping a good offense for 60 minutes is challenging, and when it comes to the Eagles' fast-break attack, even a tougher challenge.

I wrote Friday that the Giants are not an overly quick team, relying more on power than speed. That stems from how they are built, especially on defense. They are big, but they have not been able to keep up with the Birds' speed the last couple of seasons. Yet, up until the 52-minute mark, that was not the case. The Giants looked rock solid, in control, but in an instant, their lack of speed came to the forefront, along with their inability to make plays in the back end and their shortage of speed in the kicking game.

Knowing the matchup against the Eagles' offense is not in the Giants' favor, especially after the two quick scores, New York's offense had to win the game. The unit had to get first downs and avoid letting any miracles occur. However, when the Giants had to move the chains, when they had to run out the clock, they were unable to do so. They let the fight linger, and with the Eagles' quickness and speed on offense, the Giants suffered.

After the game, when I asked Vick about the first Miracle at the Meadowlands, featuring Herm Edwards, he had no idea what I was talking about. Still, he knew his team did something spectacular, something special.

The next team that gets a lead on the Eagles better knock them out with their offense and not hope their defense can hold them down.

For the Giants, their season is only over if they let this loss linger. It was painful to watch, but they must use this game to galvanize the team. They have to forget the pain, forget the "what if," and focus on the task at hand, which is to win on the road the next two weeks. New York can recover from this loss, if it behaves like a team and avoids the blame game. Yes, the Eagles had a miracle win, but now the Giants must make their own miracle and rally back.

Help wanted

Continuing my holiday list theme, here are potential coaching openings, some of which were nailed down Sunday. The list does not include Cincinnati and Carolina because we all know those spots will be open because their coach's contract expires at the end of the season.

1. Cleveland Browns: Eric Mangini was on a short rope before the season started and road losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati the last two weeks didn't help. Expect Mike Holmgren to make a move and bring in one of his (or his agent Bob Lamont) guys to run the team. My early favorite is John Fox.

Pro Bowl voting

The Pro Bowl ballots are open, so vote for your favorite players to earn a spot in the Jan. 30, 2011, event in Honolulu's Aloha Stadium.

2. Houston Texans: Owner Bob McNair extended coach Gary Kubiak's contract last year believing his team would turn things around and the playoffs would be in their future. Instead of improving this year, the Texans have gotten worse. Falling to the Titans assured the Texans a sub-.500 record and Kubiak losing his job. Chances are strong Kubiak will end up in Denver -- he returns this week to play his former team -- and maybe Bill Cowher will land in Houston.

3. Miami Dolphins: When a team is 1-6 in front of the hometown fans, then their coach cannot feel safe. I'm not certain Tony Sparano is gone in Miami, but I'm also not certain he will be back. The Dolphins have let down their fans with their play at home (1-6). Despite all the explosive plays they were supposed to put up with the addition of Brandon Marshall, the offense is slow, slow, slow.

4. San Francisco 49ers: It's highly unlikely Mike Singletary can't save his job now, as the Niners are at best a 7-9 team, even if they make the playoffs. The 49ers must make a move because their offense failed to improve in spite of the change at coordinator. The loss Thursday night highlighted everything wrong with the 49ers under the Singletary regime.

Three-step drops

» Vick was amazing against the Giants. Watching the Eagles play, I am convinced they would be a .500 team without him, but are a Super Bowl team with him on the field. However, Tom Brady is still my MVP choice at this point. ...

» The Packers had a great game plan for 58 minutes against the Patriots, but their two-minute drill was a disaster, never even attempting a throw in the end zone. New England played like it did in the loss to Cleveland, and this game will serve the Patriots well down the stretch. Don't expect them to back off; expect them to work on improving. ...

» Being the fifth seed in the NFC is the best place to be because you get the West winner. If I am the Saints, and winning the NFC South is not happening, then being the fifth seed is a good spot. ...

» Ray Rice finally got back on track and the Ravens must ride him for the rest of the season. They need to stop all this unbalanced line junk and focus on ways to get Rice the ball like they did on Sunday. While the Ravens are slow on offense, with Rice as their featured player, they can function well enough to win. The Ravens need to understand who their difference-maker really is. ...

L.T. powers up list
Find out which Hall of Famer Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson passed for sixth all time in yards from scrimmage on Sunday afternoon by taking a look at our Milestone Tracker.

» Vote: Should Tomlinson make Pro Bowl?

» The Jets gave Mark Sanchez some easy throws and that helped the offense move easier and produce points. They must continue down this path offensively as their defense is not as good as it was last year. ...

» Changing quarterbacks in Washington might have made the comeback look better, but in reality, the Redskins have problems, especially on defense. Wasn't Mike Shanahan hired to fix these issues, not create more? ...

» If the playoffs started today, the Giants would have to face the Bears. They are better than the Bears and superior to most teams in the NFC. That is if they focus on being the team that got a 21-point lead on the Eagles, not the one that blew the game. ...

» Miami has lived and died with Dan Carpenter all season, and they died with him missing four field goals on Sunday. ...

» Anyone ever doubt that Peyton Manning was going to beat the Jaguars? Losing Austin Collie really impacts the Colts' chances in the playoffs. ...

» Does any team love being behind 21-0 more than the Texans? ...

» The Lions are doing the impossible, winning with third-string quarterback Drew Stanton leading the offense. Scott Linehan might have struggled to be a head coach, but he is an outstanding play-caller.

Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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