LANDOVER, Md. - Brian Dawkins shed his tears openly, in front of his locker.
He wiped his dirty face on his dirty sweatband, the terrycloth and elastic covered in tape and freshly cut from his wrist. Finally, he rose, still in his pads and jersey, and sought the solace of the training room.
A few yards away, Tank Daniels sat at his locker, head covered with a wet towel.
In a silent locker room, a morgue of a dressing space, they mourned a season that essentially died, and they took full blame.
They relived dropped interceptions, a missed fumble recovery, a turnover-fueled touchdown and sorry third-down efficiency in the first 30 minutes.
The Eagles' defense went to Washington and surrendered just three points in the first half and seven in the second. The touchdown was an 18-yard drive, a five-play capitalization off an Eagles fumble.
Sure, the season was essentially over. The playoffs were a glimmer instead of a beacon.
But . . . just 10 points? On the road?
"We let 'em score," defensive end Trent Cole said. "We take pride in people not scoring. Getting the goose egg."
That's what they would have needed to avoid the 10-3 loss. So, they ignored their valiant resilience.
They dwelt on strong safety Quintin Mikell's dropped interception in the end zone. As free safety Brian Dawkins crossed in front of him, Mikell flashed in front of Santana Moss, but Jason Campbell's pass bounced off Mikell's shoulder pads and popped up. Then, Mikell was desperate to avoid a fluke touchdown reception.
"I saw the ball. Zeroed in on it. It just popped off my pads," Mikell explained. "Then I saw it was in the air. It was either, 'Try to get the interception,' or 'Knock it down.' I saw Santana go for it. I looked up. I didn't know where it was at. So, I just tried to knock it down."
Mikell managed that, and the Redskins chipped in a 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead that stood at halftime.
A halftime in which the Eagles' defense rested after having been on the field for nearly 20 of the first 30 minutes, including that field-goal drive – 16 plays, 8 minutes, 31 seconds, the most plays and the most time by any opponent this season.
The defense was back on the field less than 4 minutes into the third quarter after Donovan McNabb's fumble at the 30, and the runback that put it at the Redskins' 18.
"We've got to hold them to a field goal there," Mikell insisted.
But the defense did better than that on the Redskins' first possession, when Victor Ambiamiri sacked Campbell on third down and forced a fumble and a punt.
Trent Cole's tackle of Ladell Betts for a 2-yard loss, followed by Akeem Jordan's tackle of Moss for 2 more negative yards, surely kept three points off when Shaun Suisham's field goal came up short at the beginning of the second quarter.
Darren Howard's 8-yard sack at the Eagles' 32 made a field goal impossible near the end of the second quarter. Ditto Cole's 4-yard sack at the Eagles' 43 near the end of the third.
Yes, there was the dropped interception by Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, the free-agent mercenary addition this season. On the Redskins' first play from scrimmage in the fourth, Campbell launched a fluttering floater down the right sideline fully 15 yards short of Devin Thomas. Samuel glided toward the sideline . . . and . . . clank.
"I didn't make that play," said Samuel, who has dropped a few this year. "I'm here to make that play. And I didn't."
That might have swung momentum. It at least would have given the Eagles a field-position advantage once in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Campbell later scrambled for a first down – one of only two third-down conversions by the 'Skins in the second half, and their last in four possessions.
"It's bittersweet," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "The second half, I thought they did a great job. That was huge. Gave us a chance to win the game."
It might have been a better chance with the interceptions.
"You get one or two out of those," Johnson said, a little wistfully, "what a difference in the ballgame."
What a difference, indeed. *