Hope vanished in Philadelphia on Saturday night when DeMarco Murray fumbled a pitch from Sam Bradford and watched the Washington Redskins return the turnover for a touchdown.
It was a cruel and fitting way for the Eagles to accept playoff elimination. Two key pieces of Chip Kelly's offseason overhaul took part in a play that permanently swung momentum in a 38-24 loss to the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field.
The loss ended any chance the Eagles had to make the postseason. It's the second consecutive season the Eagles failed to playoffs. At 6-9, the Eagles clinched a losing record for the first time in Kelly's three years. And it came during a season when Kelly was awarded full control of the roster and made wide-sweeping changes.
Those moves mostly backfired.
Hope had lingered Saturday even when Kiko Alonso was beat for a score, when Nelson Agholor dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, when Byron Maxwell watched the game from the sideline. They were also part of the offseason overhaul and failed to play up to expectations this season.
Saturday proved to be a greatest hits of the problems that plagued the Eagles during the past four months. They turned the ball over twice. The wide receivers dropped key passes. The offensive line could not open holes for the running backs. The defense could not stop the opposing quarterback in the red zone.
Those problems have been discussed after other games throughout the season. They were never fixed.
Washington clinched the NFC East title for the first time since 2012 - and they eliminated the Eagles season in Week 16 for the second straight December.
Bradford finished 37 of 56 for 380 yards and one touchdown, and he was charged with the fumble returned for the score. The Eagles' running backs combined for only 41 rushing yards. Zach Ertz led all receivers with 13 catches for 122 yards, but he also had a fumble.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 31 of 46 passes for 365 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Tight end Jordan Reed caught nine passes for 129 yards and two scores. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who beat Kelly to the postseason after his ouster, had four catches for 40 yards.
The crucial fumble came with 4 minutes, 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Eagles trailed, 23-17, and started a drive at their 21-yard line. On third-and-2, they wanted to get the ball to Murray around the right edge. But Murray could not grasp the pitch, and Washington defensive back DeAngelo Hall scooped the ball and 17 yards for a 13-point lead. The game was not over at that point, although the Eagles could never get the game any closer.
The Eagles were in that position before the fumble after Murray rushed for a 4-yard touchdown on the previous drive to respond to Washington's score. When the Eagles forced a punt and reclaimed possession, there was hope in the stadium that the Eagles could take the lead.
Instead, Washington followed the fumble with another touchdown on their next drive - one that went 13 plays and took nearly eight minutes off the clock. The three-touchdown lead was decisive.
Even when Bradford found Jordan Matthews for an eight-yard score late in the fourth quarter, the stadium was already emptying.
A 16-10 halftime deficit was not worse because of a gaffe that Cousins won't soon live down. With no timeouts and six seconds left on the clock, Cousins dropped to his knee at the 7-yard line. Washington wanted to run a play before the half, but they certainly did not want the clock to expire without a play.
The Eagles opened the game with perhaps their best opening drive of the season. They went 80 plays on six plays, with the help of two penalties. Bradford connected with three different receivers. Ryan Mathews rushed for a one-yard score. The stadium had an electricity reserved for a late-December playoff push.
But a game with these stakes don't often include a team with a losing record, and the Eagles showed why they have a losing record during the remainder of the half.
Washington scored on back-to-back first quarter drives when Cousins twice connected with Reed for scores. Both times, the Eagles defense looked overmatched against Washington's tight end. They tried linebackers in coverage, but that did not work.
The only scoring in the second quarter came on field goals from both teams, but the Eagles lamented two potential touchdowns that they missed. The first came when Bradford overthrew Ertz streaking down the right sideline without a body within steps of the tight end. Bradford was under pressure, but if he put more air under the ball, Ertz could have better tracked it. The Eagles settled for a punt.
On their next drive, Bradford floated a pass to Agholor in the end zone. The ball hit Agholor in the hands - and then fell to the turf. What should have been seven points finished with three points. The Redskins' field goal came after Ertz fumbled a catch, and they were in position to add more points before Cousins' blunder.
That play, however memorable, proved inconsequential. Because Cousins was able to take a knee at the end of the game to celebrate an NFC East title on the Eagles' turf.
The Eagles have a meaningless game next week against the New York Giants before a long offseason. That happened last year, too, and Kelly overhauled key parts of the roster. The end result revealed itself on Saturday.