LANDOVER, Md. - At the start of the fourth quarter, Brian Dawkins was trying to breathe life into the Eagles offense by reminding his teammates in no uncertain terms what was at stake yesterday against the Redskins at FedEx Field.

Dawkins' loud exhortation took place along the sideline, where the offense spent way too much of the game because of too many three-and-outs, too many dropped passes, and a few play calls that were mystifying.

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But during their 10-3 loss that put them on the cusp of playoff extinction, only half the Eagles team punched the time clock - and that was the defense. And there was nothing Dawkins or the rest of the Eagles defenders could do but watch in agony as time ran out with Reggie Brown a yard short of the goal line after he caught a 17-yard pass from Donovan McNabb.

"It's tough. It's really tough," Dawkins said. "There are no long drawn-out answers for this. It really hurts."

If the Eagles don't make the playoffs, the defense's frustration will be intense because it's done just about all it can do during the stretch drive. They allowed one touchdown yesterday, and that came after the Redskins recovered a Donovan McNabb fumble and ran it to the Eagles 18-yard line.

In last week's win over Cleveland, they didn't allow an offensive TD. Two weeks ago against the Giants, they gave up one TD, and that was at garbage time. And three weeks ago, they stifled Arizona's impressive passing game.

Yesterday, they needed to score.

Washington made it 10-0 in the third quarter after Washington defensive end Jason Taylor sacked McNabb and jarred the ball loose from the quarterback. The Redskins' London Fletcher ran the fumble 12 yards to the Eagles' 18-yard line. Five plays later, Clinton Portis ran it in from the 1-yard line.

"We can't give up that touchdown," Dawkins said. "We've got to make them kick a field goal after that change of possession on the fumble."

Rather than pin the loss on the offense, the Eagles defense took the high road.

"We're a team," safety Quintin Mikell said. "The bottom line is we let them score 10 points and we needed them to score less than that for us to win the game. There's going to be some games when we play like crap. There's going to be some games where the special teams play like crap. There's going to be some games when the offense plays like crap. The thing is we've got to rally and pick things up for whoever is down. Today we didn't take advantage of our opportunities."

Several of the Eagles didn't seem to realize their playoff hopes were still alive, though barely, because Tampa Bay had lost earlier in the day. What the Eagles let get away was a chance to determine their own fate.

"No, I didn't know," Mikell said when asked if he was aware they still had a chance to make the playoffs. "We weren't concerned with that. We kept saying all week it didn't matter what they [other teams] did, and now we're back to square one. They [Tampa Bay] lost and we lost and I don't even know what happens now.

"We're still in it? That's the best news I've heard today, that we're still in it."

Dawkins found no joy in knowing the Eagles still have a lifeline, flimsy as it is. He is 35 and the opportunities to play post-season football are dwindling for him.

"We lost the game," he said. "We should have done what we're supposed to do and not have to worry about nobody else. That's what you always want to do. You don't want to have to care what somebody else has to do to help you out."

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com