There will be no Joe Webb on the road to the Super Bowl. There won't be any Stephen McGee, either.
To get to the Super Bowl, the Eagles would have to beat real quarterbacks: guys like Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan. They would have to beat teams with everything to play for, unlike the Minnesota Vikings, who had nothing to play for. And now, because Webb and the Vikings embarrassed them on national television, to get to the Super Bowl the Eagles would have to beat three such teams.
Twenty-four hours ago, it seemed possible. Now? It's truly hard to imagine. A week after their New Meadowlands miracle, the Eagles were merely miserable.
"It was a pathetic job," coach Andy Reid said. "It was a complete tail-whipping. . . . It wasn't only the players. It was the coaches. It was me. It was terrible, in every phase. It was terrible. The whole offense was awful."
There's not enough sugar to coat this one, and there's no excuse. The postponement of Sunday's game had a much more significant impact on the Vikings, who were stuck in the wrong time zone for two extra nights at the height of the holiday season. They are a team that has been in breathtaking free fall since losing the NFC championship game last January.
"That was a team that basically had nothing to play for," safety Quintin Mikell said.
But it was the Eagles, who had everything to play for, who hit bottom. They inexplicably failed to show up for a must-win game that would have paved their road to the Super Bowl: a possible first-round bye, a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the works.
"It's definitely big, getting a bye week and the rest," cornerback Asante Samuel said. "You only have to win two games to get to the Super Bowl. Now we have to grind it out."
It was a shock last year when the Eagles, so strong in December under Reid, were routed by Dallas in the season finale. Then came the franchise-altering aftershock of another ugly loss a week later.
Reid reacted to that late-season pratfall by dumping Donovan McNabb and retooling the defense. A year later, his reconstituted Eagles choked on national television against a dead football team. There isn't time to do much except prepare for Sunday's short-week game against the Cowboys, another dead team that may have to start McGee at quarterback.
The Eagles will be the No. 3 seed in the NFC. They will host a home game against one of the wild-card teams: Tampa Bay, Green Bay, maybe those freshly embarrassed Giants. Any of those teams would have destroyed the Eagles who showed up for Week 161/2.
The defense was abysmal. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Eagles forced Webb into a third-and-11 situation. With receiver Sidney Rice sidelined by injury and with Adrian Peterson banged up, Webb completed a 19-yard pass to Percy Harvin. After Peterson ran the ball around left end to the Eagles' 1-yard line, the defense had a chance to make a stand, force a field goal, and keep the deficit at six points.
Instead, the Eagles lined up with 12 men on the field.
Incomprehensible, but it was merely the most egregious of 12 penalties called on the Eagles.
But we already knew the defense is the weak link on this team. It is Michael Vick and that magical mystery offense that got the Eagles to a division title. It was Vick and the offense that would have to carry this team in the postseason, as well.
Instead, Vick was as careless throwing the ball as he was carrying it. He turned the ball over three times and looked rattled into terrible decisions by the pressure. There was no sign of the cool operator who engineered that incredible comeback against the Giants last week. In fact, Vick looked for all four quarters like the vulnerable and physically worn-out guy who played 31/2 quarters against the Giants.
The Packers and Giants (not to mention the Bears and Saints) have defenses capable of putting Vick through similar torment. Their defensive coordinators will have time to study what former Reid assistant Leslie Frazier threw at the Eagles on Tuesday night.
It was all set up so nicely for the Eagles. The Giants lost in Green Bay on Sunday, giving them the division. Their final two opponents, who looked so dangerous when the schedule came out, proved to be the two most disappointing teams in the NFC. Win two winnable games, get a little help, and the Eagles essentially could have won a first-round playoff game, minus the physical pounding.
The Vikings proved to be dangerous, after all. A long week after exciting their fans with that big miracle, the Eagles' Super Bowl aspirations looked like little more than a snow job.