GLENDALE, Ariz. - Brian Dawkins apologized.

The season was over and Dawkins was obviously feeling the pain of another crushed Super Bowl dream, but he felt the need to apologize.

"I want to apologize to the fans," the Pro Bowl safety said after today's 32-25 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC championship game. "We really thought this was it. We went out and gave what we could, but we came up short. I want to apologize to them."

Dawkins was asked why he felt the need to say he was sorry to the fans.

"They were so great on our run," he said. "It took a lot more belief than just in the locker room for us to be where we were. There were some fans out there believing in us, helping us along the way."

The Eagles' seven-time Pro Bowler also pinned the blame for the loss on the defense, which allowed more than 14 points for the first time in seven games. Someone suggested that quarterback Donovan McNabb would take the blame because the offense could not even the score on its final possession.

"The defense didn't get off the field when we were supposed to," Dawkins said. "The offense did their job; we did not. They drove the field. They got us points. We went ahead. Defensively, we have to get off the field and we did not."

Dawkins, a potential free agent in March, said he expects to be back with the team. He also said he expects McNabb to be back. Dawkins said the only doubts about the Eagles' starting quarterback are outside the team's locker room.

Emotional ending. Today marked the fifth Eagles appearance in the NFC championship game in the last eight years, but it was the first in which safety Quintin Mikell played a key role. He said he wanted to win for the veterans, most of all Dawkins, with whom Mikell has developed a close friendship.

"Obviously, we had that goal and we let [the veterans] down," Mikell said.

When Dawkins' name was mentioned, he added, "That's what hurts the most, but . . ."

Mikell paused to contain his emotions.

"This one really hurts," he said.

Defending McNabb. There seems to be a good chance that tight end L.J. Smith caught his final pass from McNabb today. Smith will become a free agent, and after another disappointing season, it does not seem likely that the Eagles will re-sign him.

Smith, like Dawkins, staunchly defended McNabb from his critics.

"He's just a free-spirited guy," Smith said. "I mean, people criticize him if they see him smiling on the sideline. In [Philadelphia], he's always overanalyzed. There's such a microscope on him. Honestly, I don't think there's anything he could have possibly done different today."

Smith said he felt the Eagles had become a team of destiny, especially after they came back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to take a 25-24 lead.

"The emotion was: It's got to be destiny, it's got to be destiny with the way we came back," he said. "But they made one more play than we did. Actually, they made one more drive than we did."

Extra points. Kevin Curtis had 122 yards receiving to equal an Eagles playoff record by a wide receiver. Terrell Owens had 122 yards receiving four years ago in the Super Bowl against New England. Curtis got his yards on four catches. . . . McNabb's 375 passing yards were a career high for a postseason game. He has 3,522 passing yards in the postseason, 10th on the all-time list. . . . For the second straight game, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson worked from the upstairs coach's box. Johnson, hampered by a bad back and using a cane to walk, worked from the box in the Eagles' playoff win over the New York Giants for the first time in his tenure as the team's defensive coordinator.

With 13 minutes left in the game, a Cardinals fan dressed in a No. 40 jersey - that's the retired number of the late Pat Tillman - and fatigue pants decided it was his time to take the stage at University of Phoenix Stadium. The fan, who looked more like a nose tackle than a defensive back, only got to the 15-yard line before being taken down by a crunching hit from a security guard. . . . This Eagles loss could be followed by the loss of some coaches on Andy Reid's staff. With Steve Spagnuolo being hired Saturday as St. Louis' head coach, he could tab Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur to be the Rams' offensive coordinator. Eagles secondary coach Sean McDermott has also received consideration from several teams as a defensive coordinator.