The last drive shouldn't have mattered.

It wouldn't have, if the Eagles had managed to do better than a paltry two of 13 on third-down conversions against the New York Giants yesterday.

It wouldn't have, if Brian Westbrook hadn't fumbled in the third quarter, leading to the Giants' only touchdown, a 20-yard pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress that put New York ahead for good.

It wouldn't have, if the Eagles hadn't committed so many penalties at key moments, like guard Todd Herremans' false start on a first-and-goal play at the Giants' 8, or if their wide receivers had gotten open more against a beat-up New York secondary.

But because of all that, the last drive did matter.

The final four plays from scrimmage, which set up David Akers' 57-yard field-goal attempt with five seconds left, brought back the indigestion of a certain drive in Jacksonville, Fla., three years ago, when the Eagles also didn't manage the clock well.

Akers' kick, long enough, doinked off the right upright, making the Eagles 16-13 losers and leaving their faint playoff hopes little more than a mathematical possibility.

"We got off some big plays downfield, and you've got to remember, when you complete a 30-yard pass, you've got to get your offensive line down," quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "Big guys have got to run down, and you're eating up clock, and you've got to make a decision on what play to call."

It was emblematic of the excruciating ways the Eagles have lost all season, from letting the Bears go 97 yards with no time-outs, to throwing fourth-quarter interceptions against New England and Seattle, to not getting the job done in the red zone against Washington and Green Bay.

"What separates bad teams from good teams, and good teams from great teams, is what they do in the last couple of minutes," linebacker Takeo Spikes said.

Starting from their 11, the Eagles had 53 seconds left and no time-outs. On first down, McNabb completed a 19-yard pass to Reggie Brown, who was tackled inbounds with 47 seconds remaining. Coach Andy Reid opted to call another play from scrimmage rather than have McNabb spike the ball to save time.

"We thought it was best just to keep going with what we had," Reid said.

McNabb then hit Greg Lewis over the middle for 18 yards to the 48, but there remained only 26 seconds. Again, the offense had to scramble.

"We were just trying to get there as fast as we could, and that clock was running, man," guard Shawn Andrews said.

Making matters worse, Westbrook still was 20 yards upfield, having been corralled by Giants cornerback Sam Madison. By the time Westbrook extricated himself and sprinted downfield, and McNabb spiked the ball, only 12 seconds remained.

"The ref shouldn't allow that type of thing to happen at the end of the game, when they're trying to slow us down from getting to the line," Westbrook said.

McNabb again found Brown, who stepped out at the Giants' 39 after a 13-yard gain. There were five seconds left - theoretically, enough time for a quick pass. But the Giants were dropping eight defenders into coverage, and Reid didn't want to gamble, even if it left Akers with long odds.

"That was past the max" of Akers' range, Reid said. "It was farther than we wanted to be, but that's what we had."

Contact staff writer David Aldridge
at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.