EMOTION CAN carry you only so far.

The previous two weeks sexagenarian owner Jeffrey Lurie spurred the Eagles to play with passion. They ran and blocked with abandon; executed with precision.

Lurie delivered impassioned speeches before and after the upset at New England. The next week he distributed black T-shirts with "53 Angry Men" emblazoned on them before the Birds beat the Bills.

There were not 53 Angry Men at the Linc on Sunday night.

There were 53 Hopeful Gents.

The effects of Lurie's unlikely inspiration had evaporated.

John Brown blew the top off the Eagles' defense on the first play of the game. He dropped the pass - it would have been a 78-yard touchdown - but the play provided a clear statement:

The Eagles and the Cardinals do not occupy the same rent district. Almost any run to the playoffs by the Eagles will be met with irresistible, insurmountable forces.

Chip Kelly knew it. His team knew it. It was no great secret.

The Eagles played softly, carefully the rest of the night. They tackled as if the Cards were smeared with Vaseline and covered as if they were contagious.

It ended in a 40-17 rout.

Some of the Cardinals did not appear to be sweating.

At one point in the third quarter, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, smiling ear-to-ear, led fans in a chant: an Eagles chant.

By then, it was clear that Bruce Arians, the sagacious veteran whom Lurie snubbed in favor of Kelly's collegiate genius three years ago, and his team were toying with the Eagles, like a cat with a bird.

The records provided the best evidence of the mismatch, of course. The Cards entered with 11 wins; the Eagles, six.

The Cards eventually scored on that opening drive, as they did on three of their first four.

The Eagles played paranoid; played scared.

For example:

Trailing by seven points with 50 seconds left in the first half, the Eagles went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cardinals' 8. It wasn't close.

Clearly, Kelly believed his team had to score as many points as possible against the Cardinals. The Cards had scored 17 at that point. Both of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks, Byron Maxwell (shoulder) and Eric Rowe (concussion), were gone.

What Kelly did in that moment was admit the futility of the quest.

Instead of cutting the lead to 17-13, he gambled. Instead of making it a four-point game with 30 minutes to play, he blinked.

The Eagles were due to get the ball first after halftime. A field goal in the last minute and a touchdown drive (they had executed one already) and they would be leading, at home, on a cold, almost-winter's night, against a desert dome team that was dropping passes like - well, like the Eagles.

Was Kelly wrong to go for it?

Probably. He figured that Carson Palmer, who runs the league's top offense, eventually would stop trying to throw deep and target the Eagles' soft underbelly. That would translate into long, fruitful drives, against which the Eagles' diminshed defense would erode.

Still, for a team in a playoff race, with a chance to win a division, playing desperately with 31 minutes left sends the wrong message: that they have to play riverboat football to stay with a legitimate playoff team.

If you concede inferiority, why bother making the playoffs? For one more set of gate receipts?

As it turned out, the Cardinals did abandon the deep game. Palmer fired shorter, more efficient passes and took what was given.

Meanwhile, the Eagles imploded. Jason Peters was beaten for a sack that Bradford fumbled away. Ryan Mathews, starting for the second straight game in place of DeMarco Murray, fumbled the next possession away, which turned into a touchdown. Bradford then threw a pick-6, and it was 37-10, and the parking lot was half-empty by the start of the fourth quarter.

Losing both starting cornerbacks didn't help matters. But really, though, it didn't matter. Playing softly and carefully against a team like the Cardinals, that would be the outcome 10 out of 10 times.

Every time, 53 hopeful men will be 53 beaten men.


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