LANDOVER, Md. - The winter solstice was yesterday. Smart people who know about these things say it marks the official start of winter. It's also the day that features the least amount of sunlight.

How appropriate.

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It sure was dark in Landover yesterday. The sun set about 4:45 p.m., disappearing beyond the FedEx Field walls without ceremony. The Eagles' season faded shortly thereafter.

Oh, it's possible the Birds will still make the playoffs. If Tampa Bay loses to Oakland next weekend. If the Bears lose one of their two remaining games. And if the Eagles find a way to rebound and beat the Cowboys. If, if, if. Lots of ifs - and all because of the Birds' embarrassing 10-3 loss to the Redskins.

All that good work they did in the previous three games? All the momentum they accrued? It's gone, and so is the talk of controlling their postseason destiny.

"It's not a good feeling," Andy Reid said, his face a special shade of holiday red. More than once, he summed up the game with the same two words: "very disappointing."

For the last month, the Eagles had distracted us, fooled us into thinking they were something they're not. First, they made us believe they would run the ball and balance the offense. Then they tricked us into thinking they would play well for the remainder of the season. The Bengals hiccup? A momentary brain lapse, they contended.

But in the most important game of the season, the Eagles reverted to form. We probably shouldn't be surprised that they threw the ball so much yesterday, or that after three good games they looked terribly flat. That's been the story of the season: Just when you think you have them figured out, they surprise you. And not in a good way.

"We had too many opportunities this year that we didn't take full advantage of," Donovan McNabb said. "The mistakes we've made, we're paying for them now."

Cheers

Quintin Demps:

He returned a missed field goal 55 yards. So there you go: an Eagles bright spot. Hooray.

Boos

The offense:

The last time the Redskins beat the Birds, McNabb said, "There's no way [Washington] is better than us." After scoring just three points yesterday, I wonder if he still feels that way.

Andy Reid: The Eagles passed too much (46 attempts), ran too little (16 attempts), and again proved inept at clock management - all of which is the head coach's fault. When asked about burning a time-out after just their second play of the second half - a time-out that would have come in awfully handy at the end of the game - Reid just shook his head. "I screwed up a call there," he said. You think?

Fred Smoot/LaRon Landry: The Redskins defensive backs combined to do what so many defenders have done before them: keep Reggie Brown out of the end zone.

DeSean Jackson: If you want to be a star, you have to make the big play.

McNabb's fumble: His turnover in the third quarter made it easy for the Redskins to score their only touchdown. McNabb didn't just fumble the football; he likely fumbled the Eagles' playoff hopes away as well.

Reggie Brown: He almost scored the game-tying touchdown. Too bad almost doesn't count. During the game, one reporter quipped, "Nice to see Reggie out there again making things happen."

Redskins fans: Lots of empty seats at FedEx Field yesterday. Lots of pig noses, too. That's ugly both ways.

FedEx Field taxes: The Redskins charge the media an outrageous $75 to use the Internet. That's more than my monthly Wi-Fi bill. I'll never make fun of the Eagles' Internet setup again. (Probably.)

Jim Zorn: The guy who recently said, "I feel like the worst coach in America," managed to beat the Birds. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Curious story for you: Jeffrey Lurie took the train to Maryland yesterday. Upon arrival, he was met by a driver in a black SUV and then chauffeured the rest of the way to FedEx Field. The interesting part was that the SUV had Pennsylvania plates and an Eagles insignia. Which means the team dispatched someone to drive from Philly to the D.C. area to pick up Lurie at the train station. Why didn't Lurie just get in the car back in Philly? Why bother with the train at all? . . . Late last week, Skip Bayless named his top five "best-looking quarterbacks" in the NFL during a segment on ESPN's First Take. You'll be thrilled to know that McNabb made the list at No. 5. . . . On yesterday's Fox pregame show, Jimmy Johnson predicted that the Cowboys would lose to the Eagles and miss the playoffs. Sounds good to me. Misery does love company, after all. . . .

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.