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Shocked Giants rally around punter Dodge

New York Giants punter Matt Dodge leaps for

New York Giants punter Matt Dodge leaps for Philadelphia Eagles DeSean Jackson, who returns a punt for a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the game at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Dec. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: MCT Photo

The Giants came to Matt Dodge's rescue, albeit far too late to do much good.

The media, in need of answers to explain a stunning collapse, descended upon the punter as soon as the locker room doors opened Sunday, but kicker Lawrence Tynes shooed the crowd away. "Give him a minute," he hissed before turning to Dodge and telling him, "Take your time."

Dodge, who stood with head down and back turned for several minutes, eventually turned around and faced the cameras - his eyes watery and face red.

"Just not a good time to hit a line drive, that's for sure," he said of his critical error.

The Giants appeared well on their way to a fourth straight win and sole possession of first place in the NFC East. But after taking two 21-point leads Sunday, they allowed four touchdowns in the final 7:28 - capped by a mis-kicked punt that DeSean Jackson ran back 65 yards for a TD - and lost to the Eagles, 38-31. It was the first game-winning punt return on the final play of regulation in NFL history.

Dodge said his assignment was clear: Kick the ball out of bounds. But he didn't even come close, as the ball got to Jackson just inside the numbers.

"I think everyone on that sideline did, and I knew it," he said of coach Tom Coughlin's orders. "He didn't have to tell me. It wasn't rocket science not to kick it to him with [14] seconds left."

Coughlin immediately sought out Dodge on the field and ripped him for not kicking the ball out of bounds. Coughlin later said Dodge told him the high snap threw him off, but in the locker room, Dodge insisted that had no effect on his punt, blaming it on lack of execution.

Said Dodge, "I feel like I had a good game all game, putting it where I wanted to, and sometimes you try so hard to do something - get it out of bounds - and you just lose your head, and that's kind of what happened.''

Within minutes, Deon Grant walked over and cut Dodge's response short. "I have something to say for him," he said. "It should never have come down to him kicking the ball, so he don't got no reason to hang his head or point no fingers at him. It's on defense. The score's 31-10, eight minutes left. It ain't his fault."

After muffing the 36-yard punt, Jackson picked it up, saw a crease down the middle and took off. He beat Duke Calhoun, fooled Bear Pascoe with a quick shimmy and outmaneuvered Dodge, who futilely leaped at Jackson's feet. A crushing block by Jason Avant brought down Zak DeOssie, letting Jackson scamper down the right sideline before moving laterally across the goal line.

"He was coming right at me," Pascoe said. "I said, 'All right, I got this tackle,' and as he got to me, he did his little shimmy and I fell for it." And DeOssie added, "I thought I was there. I thought I was going to stop him."

Stunned silence filled the walls of the near-empty Giants locker room after the game. When players finally gathered their thoughts, few could articulate them.

"It's like a dream," former Eagle Shawn Andrews said. "I was thinking, 'This cannot be real.' I still can't believe it. It hurts real bad."

Said David Diehl, "There are things we could've done on offense and defense to win this game. So no, as much as it is tough for [Dodge] to grin and bear this, we're a team. There are a lot of things that could have gone differently."

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