EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Matt Dodge got the message loud and clear before he stepped on the field with 14 seconds to go in the fourth: Don't kick the ball in bounds. And whatever you do, don't kick it to DeSean Jackson.
"Everyone on that sideline [told me]. I knew it," Dodge said. "[Giants coach Tom Coughlin] didn't have to tell me. It wasn't rocket science not to kick it to him with  seconds left. But sometimes you don't execute as well as you'd like."
"Sometimes" happened on Sunday afternoon for Dodge and the Giants -- at the worst possible time.
Sixty-five yards, three missed tackles and one bone-crushing block later, Jackson scored the first "walk-off" punt return in NFL history when he crossed the goal line with 0:00 left on the clock, leaving the Giants, their fans and -- perhaps most of all -- Dodge, in a state of stunned disbelief.
"Sometimes you try so hard to do something, to get it out of bounds, and just lose your head and that's kind of what happened," Dodge said after the Giants' soul-crushing 38-31 loss to the Eagles.
Jackson caught Dodge's punt inside the 35-yard line, bobbled it, picked it up and danced backward to the 30. He then darted upfield. Duke Calhoun, the first Giant to get a shot at Jackson, dove at his ankles at the 32 but came up with air.
Bear Pascoe had possibly the best shot at Jackson at the 36 but dove at him and was left with a fistful of field turf as Jackson cut to his right.
"He's a quick player, gave me a move and I didn't have my eyes in the right spot," Pascoe said. "They should have been on his hips."
Dodge dove at Jackson at the Eagles' 46 but couldn't get a hand on him. The final blow came courtesy of Jason Avant, who delivered a crushing block on long-snapper Zak DeOssie to spring Jackson for his sprint to the end zone.
Instead of going straight to pay dirt, Jackson ran across the field in front of the goal line -- not to run out the clock, but to do something "out of the ordinary," he said -- and finally made it to the end zone near the left hash.
Jackson said afterward that he was surprised the kick came anywhere near him.
So was Coughlin, who was visibly furious at Dodge in the moments after the play. When talking to reporters about 20 minutes after the game, Coughlin made it clear that he wanted Dodge to punt it out of bounds but took responsibility for the ball ending up in Jackson's hands.
"I'll take full responsibility for the last play," Coughlin said. "The young punter was told to punt it out of bounds. He got a high snap and didn't feel like he could."
The coach later added: "And we all learn again. At that point in the game and with him back there you don't punt him the ball."
Deon Grant interrupted Dodge's postgame interview to remind reporters that there was plenty of blame to go around.
"It ain't his fault. He don't got no reason to hang his head or point no fingers at him," Grant said. "His own defense [does]. [The] score was 31-10 with eight minutes left."
Many Giants players echoed Grant's message.
But on a day that reminded many of Joe Pisarcik's fumble against the Eagles at the old Meadowlands in 1978, maybe Coughlin summed up the emotions of the day best.
"I've never been around anything like this in my life," the coach said. "It's about as empty as you get to feel in this business."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.