It's hard to look back on this Eagles season without wondering how things would have been different if they'd realized back in September that rolling the ball into the end zone for Kevin Curtis to fall on was their best play.
Actually, it's hard to look back on this Eagles season at all. It was frustrating and puzzling and eminently forgettable. The sooner you get started on the forgetting, the better off you'll be.
Give Andy Reid and his team this much. They remained mystifying right to the bitter end, a dismal, soggy game played on an embarrassment of a field. Reid had Donovan McNabb play the entire game as offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg ran his usual balanced attack: equal parts passing and throwing. Fourth quarter, just minutes left in a meaningless game, and the Eagles were throwing every down.
Hey, at least they were consistent.
Afterward, Reid continued to sell this season's stumblefest as some kind of step forward, continued to place undue emphasis on the three-game winning streak that got the team to an 8-8 record. As unique achievements go, the Andy .500 isn't exactly the Tiger Slam.
One thing that was very different this year was Reid's continual referral to injuries as the cause of the Eagles' early- and midseason woes. Whenever he's been asked why the team has played better the last month or so, he comes back to it.
"We needed to get people back healthy and playing together," Reid said after prevailing over Dick Jauron's Buffalo Bills. "This year was an extreme. There was a point there where we had a few good players out."
Reid took another question and then decided he had to clarify something.
"We've never used that as an excuse here," Reid said, "and we never will. I'm just stating a fact."
As much as one hates to quibble with the coach, it's hard to tell just what he's talking about. There was one game - the horrendous loss to the Giants at the Meadowlands - in which injuries seemed to be the primary culprit. No Brian Westbrook. No William Thomas. No L.J. Smith or Brian Dawkins or Lito Sheppard.
But the team has won three in a row with at least as many key players as that on the sideline with injuries. There are three ways to interpret Reid's injury spin. The first is the one he tried to address, that he's simply a coach making excuses. The second is that the injury myth is a pretty story to plant in the minds of players looking for ways to move on from this season.
"We had a lot of bad breaks," guard Shawn Andrews said.
That sounds better for the coach's purposes than 'Man, we choked when the games counted.'
The third interpretation is that this whole thing was and is about McNabb's return to form from reconstructive knee surgery 13 months ago. Reid and his staff clearly thought the team could hang in there while McNabb worked through the early part of the season, then peak in time for the playoffs as the quarterback got back to form.
That plan looked better on paper than in practice. Ultimately, that strategy was doomed by the muffed punts in Green Bay and the defensive collapse in the final minutes against Chicago.
The second half of that strategy wasn't far off. McNabb really did get a lot stronger and more confident by the end of the season. His detractors will put that down to the pressure being off -- conveniently ignoring the many late-season and playoff games McNabb has won -- but he sounded today like a man who understood exactly where his knee was and is.
"It's not really ever going to be 100 percent," McNabb said, although he feels stronger and more mobile now than he did in September and October.
"With any injury, when you see progression, you kind of feel it happening," McNabb said. "You're able to do things you were accustomed to doing before the injury. It provides more and more confidence for you. In these last five, six games, you felt it was getting better and better. If it was mobility or having your legs throughout the whole game, and making sudden moves -- it does wonders for you."
After seeing McNabb at something close to his best, it's impossible to believe Reid plans to move on with Kevin Kolb in 2008. McNabb stays and if he's healthy, he plays.
"I love being here," McNabb said. "I have always loved being here. I look forward to being here more."
McNabb seemed sincere. So did Reid when he said, "We will be a contender again."
The coach may come to regret that. It sounded an awful lot like a promise.