ARLINGTON, Texas - This 34-14 loss, like all the other Eagles postseason losses of the last 10 years, will be pinned firmly on Donovan McNabb, and even his most ardent supporter, Andy Reid, will have a hard time exonerating the quarterback for this one.
McNabb was under constant pressure from the Cowboys all night, but he didn't make the plays when he had opportunities. His first pass was in the dirt. His next three also fell incomplete. He had an intentional grounding penalty.
McNabb's first completion came midway through the second quarter, and it was short of the first-down marker. At that point, McNabb was 1 of 5 for 2 yards; Tony Romo was 10 of 14 for 130 yards. The Eagles trailed 14-7. It never got much better.
In nine playoff wins, McNabb's completion percentage was 63.3. In the six losses prior to last night, the percentage was 55.0. In this loss, McNabb was 19 of 32 (59.4) for 230 yards and one touchdown, with one interception and one fumble. McNabb looked jittery and uncomfortable from the get-go, and he never got any better.
Here's a closer look at Eagles-Cowboys III.
Nothing but a decoy
Unlike last week, the Eagles opened the game with Leonard Weaver as the featured tailback. After missing five straight games following his second concussion of the season, Brian Westbrook got just 14 carries in the final two games of the regular season and gained 49 yards.
Westbrook used to mean everything to the Eagles. Last night, he was either a decoy or an afterthought. From how he used Westbrook - zero carries, one catch - Reid apparently didn't think Westbrook had enough left to offer. His career in Philadelphia is in serious jeopardy.
Reid didn't play Michael Vick in the regular-season finale, and this must have been why. He wanted to have a play when the Eagles needed a jolt. Trailing 7-0, Reid trusted Vick to make the deep throw, even though Vick hadn't done it all year.
On second-and-3 from the Eagles 24-yard line early in the second quarter, Vick faked a handoff to LeSean McCoy, stepped to his left and then dropped back while Jeremy Maclin cut outside against cornerback Mike Jenkins, who slipped on the turf. Vick hit Maclin in stride, and Maclin ran untouched for a 76-yard touchdown.
It was just Vick's seventh completion of the season (in 14 attempts), but it was the longest pass play in Eagles postseason history. It showed how much faith Reid has in Vick.
Blitz, and blitz again
Unlike last week, Sean McDermott dialed up the blitzes, and midway through the second quarter, they seemed to be rattling Romo. The Eagles used five down linemen. They blitzed Chris Gocong from a three-point stance. And they sent the safeties on blitzes.
On the Cowboys' first play after the Vick-to-Maclin touchdown, with the tight end unable to pick up the blitz, Romo threw a wobbly pass that Sean Jones appeared to have intercepted in Cowboys territory.
It was a huge momentum turner, in part because Romo had started looking flustered under the constant pressure. Dallas coach Wade Phillips challenged whether the ball hit the ground before Jones caught it, and although it looked like Jones had his arm underneath the ball, referee Ed Hochuli overturned the call.
The Eagles opened the second half in the no-huddle. Reid was looking for rhythm. They didn't find it and scrapped the no-huddle after the second series.
Reid couldn't have been happy with . . .
How Asante Samuel lost his cool before halftime. The Eagles defense had been getting gouged, particularly Sheldon Brown. After the Cowboys scored to go up, 24-7, Jeremiah Trotter came to the bench and said something to Samuel, who got up, threw his hands in the air, walked away, came back and barked at Brown. The next time on the field, Samuel drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
The first-half time of possession. It favored Dallas, 22:53 to 7:07.
How DeSean Jackson didn't "sting" the Cowboys. McNabb didn't throw to his biggest weapon until the second half. He finished with three catches for 14 yards.
Being the team that the Cowboys beat for their first playoff win since 1996.