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Missed field goal and opportunities bury Birds

If one kick can serve as a microcosm for an entire football season, David Akers' 57-yard field-goal attempt yesterday was it.

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook heads for daylight, while the Giants' Justin Tuck (left) and Osi Umenyiora head for him. Westbrook compiled 116 yards and had the Birds' only touchdown.
Eagles running back Brian Westbrook heads for daylight, while the Giants' Justin Tuck (left) and Osi Umenyiora head for him. Westbrook compiled 116 yards and had the Birds' only touchdown.Read moreRON CORTES / Inquirer Staff Photographer

If one kick can serve as a microcosm for an entire football season, David Akers' 57-yard field-goal attempt yesterday was it.

Just like this exercise in frustration being conducted on a weekly basis by the 2007 Eagles, Akers' kick looked good at liftoff.

"As soon as he hit it, it sounded like he hit it pretty good," holder Sav Rocca said. "As soon as I stood up, it looked like it was going straight, and I kept thinking it was going to go through."

It was so, so, so close. And then it made that agonizing sound of football clanging against goalpost.

Just like this Eagles season, it was no good.

A chance to go into overtime was gone, and the Eagles' hopes of returning to the playoffs were reduced from slim to as-close-as-you-can-get-to-none. Only mathematics and a weak NFC allow them to still be alive after their 16-13 loss to the New York Giants that included the return of quarterback Donovan McNabb and the reappearance of a lackluster offense unable to take advantage of scoring opportunities.

"I thought it was good," linebacker Takeo Spikes said about Akers' kick. "That play kind of sums up how this season has gone for us up until this point: close, but yet so far away."

The Eagles lost for the third straight time and slipped to 5-8 with three games left. The three losses to teams with a combined record of 31-8 have come by a total of 10 points.

So, so, so close.

"We have too much talent on this team to be in the position where we're at," Spikes said. "How do we fix it? We continue to work. That's the only thing you can do, but this is disappointing."

The Eagles' frustration level peaked on their final two possessions.

On their penultimate offensive series, the Eagles went from their own 5-yard line to the Giants' 43, but consecutive runs by Brian Westbrook resulted in the loss of a yard and left McNabb and the offense facing a fourth-and-6 situation from the 44 after the two-minute warning.

McNabb threw to Jason Avant over the middle, and it was obvious to everyone with eyes except referee Ron Winter's officiating crew that linebacker Antonio Pierce hit the Eagles receiver early.

Instead of a penalty and a first down, the Eagles turned the football over on downs.

"I can't get into it," coach Andy Reid said when asked about the call. "You could tell by my reaction. Go back and look at it. It's on film."

Avant and even Pierce confirmed the botched no-call.

"I don't have the words to describe it," Avant said. "I was pretty hot about it, because I didn't have a chance to catch it. He hit me and the ball came. That's what happened."

Said Pierce: "I really don't care. It didn't get called. It's irrelevant. It's one of those plays like Franco Harris' [Immaculate Reception] catch. Did he catch it or not? We got the win, and that's all that matters."

The win mattered plenty for the Giants. They improved to 9-4 and clinched a wild-card berth.

More controversy ensued on the Eagles' final possession. McNabb connected on consecutive passes to Reggie Brown and Greg Lewis to get the Eagles from their own 11 to the 48. After the second completion, however, precious seconds ticked off as Westbrook was deliberately prevented from getting lined up for the next play by Giants cornerback Sam Madison.

"I thought he had his shirt caught in my helmet or something, but that wasn't the case," Westbrook said. "He continued to try to press his elbow in my neck. The ref shouldn't allow that type of thing to happen at the end of the game, but they were trying to slow me down from getting to the line. He was right there. He saw it. He had the opportunity to make the call. He just didn't do it at that time."

After Westbrook finally got set up, McNabb spiked the football with just 12 seconds left. The quarterback had time for one more play and completed a 13-yard pass to Brown, who managed to get out of bounds at the Giants' 39, setting up Akers' field-goal attempt.

Akers missed what would have tied the longest field goal of his career, but nobody blamed him for this defeat. Nobody blamed the officials, either.

"It's one of those things that if you don't execute early, you don't want to let the games fall into the hands of the officials," Avant said. "That play was huge, but we had a lot of opportunities that we didn't capitalize on. It's a classic example of not executing early."

For the fourth time this season, the Eagles scored a touchdown on their opening drive, going 68 yards on six plays with McNabb completing all three of his passes, including an 18-yard touchdown to Westbrook.

And then the offense went into hibernation.

"We ended up shooting ourselves in the foot on a number of occasions in the first half," Reid said.

The offense kept right on shooting at that same target early in the second half.

On the Giants' first series of the second half, middle linebacker Omar Gaither forced a fumble by Brandon Jacobs that was recovered and returned to the New York 8 by defensive tackle Mike Patterson.

Guard Todd Herremans was flagged for a false start on first down, moving the ball back to the 13. McNabb was then sacked by defensive end Osi Umenyiora for a 6-yard loss, leaving the Eagles in a second-and-goal situation from the 19. The Eagles settled for a 29-yard field goal that gave them a 10-6 lead.

Three series later, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck stripped the football from Westbrook, and Madison recovered at the Eagles' 37-yard line.

Three plays later, the Eagles thought they got the ball back when it appeared that Amani Toomer fumbled just as he was hitting the ground after catching a pass from quarterback Eli Manning. Reid tossed the challenge flag, but the ruling on the field was upheld.

On the next play, Manning beat a cornerback blitz with a quick release to Plaxico Burress, who easily beat the loose coverage of cornerback Sheldon Brown for a 20-yard touchdown, giving the Giants their first lead of the day.

New York never lost that lead, even though Akers' 57-yard try with one second left was so, so, so close to being good.

Instead, it was just like the Eagles - no good.