The last punt of the day was already in the air, safely away from the foot of Ryan Plackemeier - which Seattle coach Mike Holmgren thought was his biggest worry - when Holmgren turned to look downfield and saw something that
That would be Brian Westbrook.
Even great coaches overlook a detail here and there, and Holmgren knew he had missed a big one.
"I should have been a little more aware of him in that situation," Holmgren said. "When we played the Bears with [Devin] Hester . . . I told Ryan under no circumstances was the ball to remain in play. That was my fault [this time]. I should have told him to kick the ball out of bounds."
Oh, yes, he should.
Not that it ended up mattering. Westbrook's brilliant 64-yard return to the Seattle 14-yard line didn't save the soggy day for the Eagles. What looked like a sure 28-24 loss turned into . . . a 28-24 loss, anyway.
But it did add to the overall frustration of the afternoon, not that more was needed. The Eagles had already gone seven straight possessions without scoring. The eighth and final one would end with an A.J. Feeley interception, another commodity not in short supply.
And by that narrow margin, the Seahawks didn't have to atone for the sin of not noticing Brian Westbrook. They didn't become the latest team to get back on the bus and wonder how you could let the only weapon on the field beat you.
"As soon as he caught the ball," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of the punt return, "I think everyone said, 'This is dangerous.' And he was dangerous."
The rest of the Eagles were mostly a danger to themselves, however. They wasted another typical Westbrook game, another in a series that is adding up to an MVP-caliber season. The team is 5-7 now, drifting farther from shore with each loss. Westbrook can't save them every time, and they can't save him from sinking out of the national spotlight as well.
"I try to hold up my end and do my part," Westbrook said. "I'm frustrated we're not winning football games, and we're good enough to win football games. My stats and my numbers aren't such a big deal. If we were winning and I had bad numbers, I would still be happy."
Good sentiments, but his numbers are a big deal, and the Eagles would have
of winning without them. As it is, the team isn't good enough to take advantage of his production - or, sometimes, smart enough to rely on it.
After gaining 93 yards on 21 carries yesterday, Westbrook has 994 rushing yards this season, third highest in the league. His 1,598 total yards from scrimmage lead the NFL. And, when absolutely necessary and never until, he can return a punt fairly well, too.
"He means so much to us and our production," safety Brian Dawkins said. "I don't know the percentage he is of our offense, but I'm sure it's very high. You definitely feel bad for him because [of] what he gives every week."
Yesterday, Westbrook might have been asked to give a little more. He wasn't on the field for a third-and-1 attempt early in the fourth quarter that went awry when Feeley threw an incompletion that was intended for L.J. Smith. Understand, it's fine to throw there, but incomprehensible not to have Westbrook on the field for all the attention he attracts.
After getting 18 touches from scrimmage in the first half of the game, Westbrook got 10 in the second, not counting the punt return. And he got just three carries in the fourth quarter. All of that despite the fact the Eagles never trailed by more than four points in the second half.
These are old ruts the wagon wheels have found, of course, but it seems increasingly silly not to use a great weapon to best advantage. Especially on a day in which field conditions dictate the run. Especially against a team that is suspect in defending the run. And especially, especially, when your fill-in quarterback is about to come within one interception of equaling his previous none-too-pretty career high for a game.
"With the weather, you would think that we'd run the ball a little more," Westbrook said. "We're a passing team, and we've always been. We're probably going to continue to be that, so I'm not surprised by what happened out there."
He didn't say that unhappily. Just stating fact. This is how it goes.
But this season particularly, it doesn't go too well. On Sunday against the Giants, when Donovan McNabb returns against the team that sacked him 12 times this season, maybe it's time to go for a minor adjustment. Or maybe it is too late to matter.
Westbrook will still be waiting, either way. When he does get the ball, every other person on the opposite sideline will think, "This is dangerous."
And it will be. And how many Eagles can you say that about?