BRIAN WESTBROOK'S phenomenal season deserved a far better canvas than the Eagles provided him with this season.

Putting his franchise-record 2,104-yards-from-scrimmage masterpiece in this disappointing 8-8 season is like having Michelangelo paint the Creation of Man on a men's restroom wall instead of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

"It is disappointing," Westbrook admitted after collecting 99 rushing and receiving yards in the Eagles' 17-9, season-ending win over the Bills. "You want to have a good season when your team is doing well. It usually happens that way. But at the same time, I know this team can get it done. We just didn't do it this year."

No, they didn't. Through no fault of Westbrook's, they failed to make the playoffs for the second time in 3 years, losing five games by four points or less. Well, OK, maybe he was a little to blame. There was that costly third-quarter fumble in the Eagles' 16-13 loss to the Giants earlier this month.

But other than that, the guy was near-perfect this season, rushing for a career-high 1,333 yards and catching a franchise-record 90 passes for another 771 yards. With a 10-yard run on the Eagles' second offensive play yesterday, he broke Wilbert Montgomery's 28-year-old club mark for scrimmage yards in a season.

Westbrook had a season-low 11 touches against the Bills, but made the most of them, rushing for 42 yards on seven carries and catching four passes for 57 yards.

"If you told me that I'd have a 2,000-yard season, I would definitely have been shocked to see that I had all those yards and my team didn't do well," Westbrook said. "That just means that we need to work a little bit harder. I need to give a little bit more and the team needs to give a little bit more so that we can have more success."

It's hard to imagine that Westbrook can give any more than he gave this season. He had a career-high 372 touches, most of them on a sore knee that prevented him from practicing much of the season. His 278 rushing attempts were 216 more than his backup, Correll Buckhalter.

Westbrook averaged 5.72 yards per touch this season. Just one NFL running back averaged more (the Vikings' Adrian Peterson). He scored a team-high 12 touchdowns. His only fumble was that one against the Giants.

He'll turn 29 before the start of next season, which is young for an accountant, but not for a 5-10, 203-pound running back with 694 touches the last two seasons. The clock is ticking, which is why the Eagles can ill afford to waste a gem like he gave them this season.

Asked yesterday whether he worries that 350-touch workloads will take their toll on Westbrook, coach Andy Reid said: "I don't. We've been kind of saving him up for right now. We've been rotating him for a few years to get him right here at this point in his career."

Westbrook said his top priority during the offseason will be to try and strengthen his knee and leg. He left yesterday's game late in the third quarter after his knee stiffened up.

"I want to have the opportunity to have the ball in my hands to do the things I know I can do," he said. "I can make people miss, make plays. I can run inside, I can run outside. I can catch the ball. When coach gives me the opportunity, I definitely enjoy it. I'm glad I got a chance this year."

Westbrook knows the shelf life of an NFL running back is short. But he feels he's up to the task of annual 350-touch workloads.

"I think so," he said. "My body feels good. I've got that nagging knee, but other than that, my body feels pretty good. I feel as though I can touch the ball 350 times a season and be good."

Thumbs down

* To rookie linebacker Stewart Bradley, the defensive hero

* To rookie linebacker Stewart Bradley, the defensive hero

of last week's win over New Orleans, for his inexcusable roughing-the-passer penalty on the Bills' Trent Edwards in the second quarter. Bradley hit Edwards in the head with his arm on a third-and-18 blitz, giving the Bills a first down.

* To coach Andy Reid, who has spent the last few weeks blaming injuries for the Eagles' disappointing season. "This year was an extreme," he claimed yesterday. "There was a point where we had a few good players out." Yeah, the Eagles have had a few people hurt, including free safety Brian Dawkins (missed six games), safety Sean Considine (eight games), cornerback Lito Sheppard (five games) and tight end L.J. Smith (six games). But they've had far more missed games by starters in previous years and managed to overcome them.

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