IT'S ALL BRIAN Westbrook's fault.
The Eagles running back has bailed out his team so many times in his career that when he attached the superhero cape to his uniform, fielded a punt and started downfield, most everyone figured "game over." He is, after all, the lone man left on the roster who could breathe life into a season on life-support.
So as Westbrook began his mad dash toward paydirt, the handful of fans left in the stadium stood and cheered, the press box turned to rewrite, Seattle coach Mike Holmgren kicked himself for even punting the ball in Westbrook's direction and a gasping Matt Hasselbeck said, "This is dangerous," to himself.
But Westbrook only went 64 yards. He needed to go 78. If the Eagles were going to beat Seattle, Westbrook couldn't leave a half inch between himself and the end zone, let alone a 14-yard difference that stretched wider than the Grand Canyon.
"I thought I was going to score," Westbrook said. "In hindsight I should have tried to cut it, but I had a trailer behind me."
Back before Disney Channel turned kiddie cartoons into politically correct educational programming, Bugs Bunny played a nonsensical baseball game in which the ever-talented rabbit played every position against the Gashouse Gorillas: First base, Bugs Bunny, second base, Bugs Bunny, shortstop, Bugs Bunny.
The Eagles would be well served to take a page out of the Looney Tunes' offense [their offense, after all, is simply lunacy]. With or without Donovan McNabb, few would argue that the guy whose durability once was questioned is the most reliable weapon the team has.
"Oh, man, he's the MVP," tight end L.J. Smith said. "You see what he did with the punt return. It's crazy. He's such a great player. I don't know how many times he should touch the ball: 30, 35? I'd give him the ball as much as possible."
Against Seattle it was 28, but on a slick field where open-field tacklers looked like Shaquille O'Neal facing up Allen Iverson, Westbrook rushed the ball 21 times overall and only seven on the Eagles' final eight possessions.
Westbrook and his cohort, Correll Buckhalter, both said they thought they could run the ball more. Buckhalter couched his remarks with the softening disclaimer that it is up to the players to execute whatever play is called.
Westbrook spoke more as a man resigned to what his Sunday fate will be so long as he's wearing Eagles green.
"With the weather you would think that we'd run the ball a little bit more," Westbrook said. "But we're a passing team and we've always been. We're probably going to continue to be that, so I'm not surprised by what happened out there."
Westbrook ended up with 93 yards on those 21 carries and 46 more on seven receptions. That's 37.7 percent of the Eagles' offense but it could have and should have been more.
With Sheldon Brown's fumble-causing hit to start the second half setting the Eagles up on the Seahawks' 40, Westbrook covered 37 of those 40 yards, including a 29-yard tackle-slipping sprint to the end zone that gave the Eagles a 24-21 lead.
From that point forward, the Eagles called eight designed running plays to 22 passes. Westbrook touched the ball just those seven times.
"I'm pretty sure it's very frustrating for him, as it is with all of us, but you definitely feel bad for him because of what he gives every week," Brian Dawkins said. "He can't practice a lot. I won't say he can't, but he doesn't practice a lot, because what he puts out in a game and when game-time comes, he's right there."
While all eyes were on No. 36 on that electric punt return, the times that Westbrook didn't touch the ball stand out even more.
Early in the fourth quarter, he rushed for 6 yards on a first down and 3 more on second, putting the Eagles, then down 28-24, in a crucial third-and-1 on their own 42. Instead of going back to the well, A.J. Feeley went deep to the sideline for Smith, the ball sailing out of bounds.
"On a lot of our third-and-1s, we threw the ball," Feeley said. "I don't know what the percentages were, but I think we can use him better on third downs. Even in the backfield, he's always a weapon. He's always the guy that can explode and make that big play."
Since Feeley asked, the Eagles were 7-for-19 on third downs. Fifteen times they threw, connecting only four times and throwing just once to Westbrook. Four times they tried to run for it on third down. Westbrook converted two, Feeley one and Westbrook was memorably stopped at the goal line on the other.
But perhaps the most head-scratching game of "Where's Westbrook?" occurred on the definitive series of the game. After his punt return all but handed the Eagles a game they didn't deserve to win, he never touched the ball again. He was on the field, but on first down, Feeley tried to run and was sacked as he scrambled toward the sideline. On second down, Buckhalter got the call for a run up the middle, gaining 4 yards.
And for those who sipped some early egg nog, on third down Feeley threw a pick to end the game and start the nail pounding on the Eagles' coffin.
Andy Reid said Westbrook was gassed from the punt return, so he didn't get the ball.
Westbrook gently disagreed.
"I would have been able to make a play, I believe," he said. "You're a little tired, but that's the clutch part of the game."
And in the clutch part of the game, really, is there someone else who needs to touch the ball? *