ONE OF THE purported byproducts in delaying last night's game by 2 days was an enhanced chance at one of the two first-round byes in the upcoming playoffs.
Better weather meant better use of the Eagles' weapons, better rest for their banged-up quarterback and top playmaker. Having secured the division championship Sunday by remaining docile, the Eagles figured they would recycle the formula in last night's walk-through against the Vikings.
Didn't work as well this time.
For one, the Vikings didn't get the walk-through memo. They played as if their only chance of escaping our city was by beating our playoff-bound team.
Minnesota beat the Birds, 24-14, in front of 69,144 disgusted fans. The Vikings sacked Michael Vick six times, hit him at least twice as much, forced him to turn the ball over three times, including one fumble returned for a touchdown. They dominated almost start to finish, played as if they hadn't, as a team, forgiven our quarterback.
"It was an absolutely pathetic job on my part getting my team ready to play," Andy Reid said. "We didn't coach well and we didn't play well. It was a complete tail-whipping right there."
How could this happen? Brett Favre was in plainclothes, still affected by a concussion. Rookie Joe Webb, who began the season as a Vikings receiver, started as quarterback in lieu of any other viable candidate. He threw for 195 yards, ran in a touchdown, wasn't sacked and wasn't picked.
How could this happen? The Vikings were playing with an interim coach, after 4 snow-filled days in our city. Questionable with a bruised thigh on Sunday, Adrian Peterson ran for 118 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles, 18-3 in December under Andy Reid since 2006, were 14-point favorites, playing for the chance to earn a bye.
Which of course, they got.
Just a week earlier than they hoped.
That's what Sunday's game against Dallas now amounts to. With their division locked up and one of the top two seeds now out of their grasp, the Eagles are locked into the third seed and have little incentive to play any regulars in their final home game.
So please don't.
Specifically, don't put Vick and his sore quad out there against another team with nothing to play for but the opportunity to share their hurt. Give DeSean Jackson an extra week to heal an injured foot that, last night anyway, appeared to be sapping his speed.
Or maybe it just seemed that way because Vick kept throwing the ball as if up against 45 mph winds. His quad injured on the game's first series, he missed countless open guys, threw into coverages, was hounded by a relentlessly blitzing Minnesota pass rush.
"Just trying to press the issue instead of just letting it happen," he said afterwards. "You've got to be disciplined. I wasn't and it cost us."
On the night he was named to the Pro Bowl, he fumbled twice, was intercepted once, and threw at least three more passes into purple-shirted defenders that were dropped, including one to former Eagle Lito Sheppard.
Antoine Winfield had his chance ruined by an Eagles interference call, but his strip of Vick, and subsequent 45-yard touchdown rumble, turned this game upside down. With just over 2 minutes remaining until halftime, the Eagles had moved from their own 10-yard line to Minnesota's 38 and seemed poised to cushion their 7-0 lead.
Instead, the teams adjourned tied at 7. No problem. Put in a good half, chalk up the first half to inertia, and get ready for Dallas. Except that, once the third quarter began, it was all Vikings.
They drove 62 yards against the patched-up Eagles defense on their first possession for a 30-yard field goal. They went 75 yards on their next possession to push ahead 17-7.
The Eagles committed 12 penalties. They had 12 men on the field for a goal-line stand once. Illegal formations, neutral zone infractions, you name it, they did it.
You kept waiting for the wake-up call, the way it clicked the week before in the Meadowlands. It's a dangerous way to live and an easy way to perish, and if there was any silver lining last night, it was that lesson, relearned, this late in their uneven season.
Vick did try to shake off his sluggish and uncharacteristically inaccurate first half, scoring on a scramble to pull them within 17-14 as the fourth quarter began. But the Vikings, as they had for most of the night, moved easily down the field for another score, forced the Eagles to punt, then iced the game by playing keep-away over 3 of the final 4 minutes of the game.
As Reid said, it was a spanking, plain and simple. Maybe there was a lesson there too, and, in a strange way, maybe a gift as well.
After the game Reid said his team wasn't good enough to rest guys.
Truth is, they're not good enough not to.
Not against a well-rested Dallas team that watched this game with more than a passing interest. And very likely, a renewed sense of purpose. There was something to be gained last night. There's nothing to be gained Sunday. You either treat it as a bye . . .
Or say bye-bye after the next one.