The Eagles have mustered some momentum at various points during this increasingly disappointing season, and they firmly believed they were a massive force moving in a positive direction as they stepped on the field for a critical home game against the Seattle Seahawks.
That strong effort in a losing cause against the powerful New England Patriots the week before became nothing more than a meaningless footnote today as the Eagles wasted a gargantuan performance by Brian Westbrook and lost, 28-24, to the Seahawks on the soggy new sod at Lincoln Financial Field.
The loss left the Eagles at 5-7, which means they probably can't afford to lose again if they want to have any chance of making a second straight postseason appearance.
A.J. Feeley, making his second start in a row, spared us all the possibility of a quarterback controversy this week by throwing four interceptions, including one in the final minute after Westbrook had put the Eagles in position to pull out a victory with a 64-yard punt return reminiscent of his magical season-saving moment at the Meadowlands in 2003.
"I thought I was going to score," Westbrook said. "In hindsight, maybe I should have tried to cut it back a little bit, but I knew I had a trailer behind me. I think the guys did a good job of blocking in front of me and I was able to get out in space and try to make a play and give us an opportunity to win the game."
Like so many other times this season, the Eagles put the word missed right in front of the word opportunity.
Westbrook's electrifying return came to a halt when he stepped out of bounds at the 14-yard line, leaving Feeley and the Eagles' offense 1 minute and 16 seconds to try to put the football in the end zone for a winning score.
The voyage got off to a dubious start when Feeley tried to make a play with his feet and ended up sliding for a 1-yard loss that was credited as a sack to Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson.
"I got on [Feeley] after he scrambled and slid," offensive tackle Jon Runyan said. "You've got to throw that out of bounds and stop the clock. Time is more valuable right there than yards. That's a little bit of inexperience right there."
That bad start on the Eagles' final offensive series became an awful ending to the game two plays later when Feeley thought he saw an open Reggie Brown for a potential game-winning score.
What Feeley didn't see was Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who seemed to have the super power of making himself invisible every time the Eagles quarterback dropped back to pass today.
"Reggie did a good job of making a move off that linebacker, so my eyes went strong to try to pull him for a lane," Feeley said. "Essentially, it's the same play we scored on last week. I didn't see [Tatupu]. I thought the middle was wide open. I tried to bang it to [Brown] and not until I released it did I see [Tatupu] standing right in front of me."
For Tatupu, it was his third interception of the game and his fourth in two games at Lincoln Financial Field. For Feeley, it was his fourth interception of the game and his eighth in 101/2 quarters since replacing the injured Donovan McNabb, who has thrown just six interceptions this season.
Not once in the final sequence did the football go to Westbrook, who rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries and caught seven passes for 46 yards.
"I would have been able to make a play, I believe," Westbrook said when asked if he was tired after his long punt return. "You're a little tired, but that's the clutch part of the game."
Feeley took the blame for the loss for the second straight week.
"It's tough to swallow," the quarterback said. "Second week in a row, it's not a good feeling and it's on my back. Obviously, I didn't do a good job protecting the ball. Conditions weren't the greatest, but you've still got to play through all this stuff."
The conditions - sleet early, rain in the middle and a messy field at the end - did make it difficult, but as cornerback Sheldon Brown noted, the Seahawks were on the same field.
Given the equally bad footing, the Seahawks did a much better job at taking advantage of the Eagles' mistakes.
Case in point: Feeley's first errant pass of the game came on the Eagles' first play. Tatupu, utilizing his super power of becoming invisible, stepped in front of tight end L.J. Smith and returned his first interception 33 yards to the Eagles' 18-yard line.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck immediately tried to return the favor when his first pass was deflected by linebacker Omar Gaither into the waiting hands of Takeo Spikes, who dropped the football.
"The one that I dropped early, I think that would have changed the momentum of the game," Spikes said. "That goes to show: You have to take advantage of every opportunity."
The Seahawks did.
Given a reprieve, Shaun Alexander, back after a three-game absence with a knee injury, covered the final 18 yards on two carries to put Seattle in front.
To their credit, the Eagles immediately bounced back with a five-play, 65-yard drive that was completed when Correll Buckhalter broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run.
Another series of missed opportunities and mistakes followed.
When Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren dialed up a pass on a third-and-1 play from Seattle's own 30-yard line (he really is Andy Reid's mentor, isn't he?), defensive tackle Mike Patterson broke through and hit Hasselbeck. As the Seahawks quarterback was headed for the soggy sod, defensive end Trent Cole stripped the football, giving Kimo von Oelhoffen a chance to recover a fumble deep in Seattle territory. The veteran defensive tackle missed his opportunity and tackle Sean Locklear recovered it for the Seahawks.
Three plays after the Seattle punt, Invisible Man, alias Lofa Tatupu, got his second interception of the game and returned it 49 yards to the Eagles' 8-yard line.
The Eagles' defense did a good job on first down, a really good job on second down, then allowed Hasselbeck to complete a 12-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Engram on third and goal, giving Seattle a 14-7 lead.
Like the week before in New England, the Eagles were again locked in a shoot-out and they showed some resiliency by rallying from a 21-10 deficit.
After Hasselbeck connected with Nate Burleson for a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Feeley took the Eagles 60 yards on four plays, finding Kevin Curtis for a 24-yard touchdown that cut the Seahawks' lead to 21-17.
Just before halftime, the Eagles had a chance to take the lead when they had a first-and-goal opportunity from the 1-yard line.
Of course, it became a missed opportunity.
Westbrook was stopped for no gain on first down, Feeley's second-down pass was incomplete and Westbrook's attempt to leap over the pile on third down came up just short.
The Eagles called time-out with seven seconds left and Reid decided to go for the touchdown.
"We were right there with a chance to score and I thought we could get it in," Reid said.
Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard burst through the line of scrimmage and tripped up Westbrook for no gain on fourth down.
Those three points the Eagles passed on would come back to haunt them.
The Eagles, who had gone 10 quarters without a turnover, got one on Seattle's first possession of the second half when Sheldon Brown forced a fumble after Engram caught a pass. Cole recovered the football and Westbrook turned the turnover into a touchdown with a 29-yard run that gave the Eagles their only lead of the day at 24-21.
It was short-lived. After the teams exchanged punts, Maurice Morris broke free on a third-and-2 play for a 45-yard touchdown run that put Seattle back on top at 28-24.
Two Feeley interceptions and one great punt return by Westbrook later, the game was over and the Eagles' momentum was gone.