BALTIMORE - Doug Pederson probably made the choice he had to make, going for the win on a two-point conversion with four seconds left, down 27-26, instead of kicking an extra point and heading into overtime.
Pederson and the Eagles were underdogs, on the road, their offense forced to slug and flail its way downfield, fighting hand-to-hand, all the way through a bleak, raw December afternoon.
This figured to be a cleaner shot at winning than Pederson was going to get in OT, against a Baltimore team with more weapons, a now-8-6 team with real playoff aspirations. The Ravens had been poised to put the game away until Jordan Hicks stepped in front of a Joe Flacco pass, with 6:12 left, the play after a 54-yard ramble on a slant gave Baltimore a first down at the Eagles' 11, the hosts up 10 points and ready to score more.
Every player interviewed in the locker room endorsed the idea of trying to win in regulation. Center Jason Kelce said he was "extremely excited" when he found out they were going for two.
A puncher's chance was all the now-5-9 Eagles had from the opening kickoff until the end, and it's hard to blame Pederson for taking that punch, instead of dancing away.
The play called was a slant to Jordan Matthews, in the teeth of what the Eagles said they correctly deduced would be a Cover Zero blitz.
An inconvenient fact: The Eagles, to that point, were 1-for-9 against the Ravens, for 9 yards, passing the ball inside the red zone. (No, this does not account for the pass interference penalty Nelson Agholor drew to get them from the 17 to the 4, setting up the Carson Wentz TD scramble that got them within 27-26.)
The Eagles were in position to win because their running game had improbably gouged out 169 yards on 38 carries against the NFL's best run defense. Because Ryan Mathews had battered his way to 128 yards, on 20 carries.
But Mathews was not on the field for the two-point attempt, even though he'd soared over the line to score a two-pointer in the first half, after scoring the Eagles' other touchdown.
"In those situations, it's a got-to-have-it situation for both teams," Pederson said, when asked about the call, and Mathews' absence. "It doesn't matter who the back is, they're going to cover up all the gaps . . . Your chances with Carson throwing are a little bit better in that situation."
Are they, though? Maybe for the league as a whole. For this team, with these receivers?
Tell the truth: From your couch, when you saw it was going to be a pass play, did you think one of Wentz's receivers was going to end up catching it and being buried under a pile of delirious teammates?
Or did you think, "Uh-oh."
Quick drop, ball thrown over the middle, into the teeth of the blitz. Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley got a hand on it. That alone probably would have kept the pass from being caught, but for good measure, corner Jerraud Powers was able to climb onto Matthews, since the ball had been tipped, Powers ending any chance Matthews might have had of coming up with the catch of his life.
"It was there. It wasn't like it wasn't there," said Matthews, who caught six passes for just 27 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per catch.
"The play call, the play design, everything was built for that situation," Pederson said. "Credit them, they got a hand up and tipped the ball."
"We thought they were going to blitz, and they did. It was a good call, but they made a good play," Wentz said, after the Eagles lost their seventh road game in a row.
"Ideally, you want to get their hands down, but it's a zero blitz, so you're trying not to let leakage in, trying to get big so that nobody gets a free hit on the quarterback. It's just unfortunate it didn't work out that way," Kelce said.
"If the 'backer drops out, I block the end, if the 'backer comes, I block the 'backer. The 'backer (Mosley) came, but when I went down (to block him), he kind of got his hand on the ball," left tackle Jason Peters said. "I coulda done a little bit better. But I had to respect (end Terrell) Suggs rushing, so I had to set back.
"We fought. We coulda won that game. Came up short."
Peters said he thinks rookie coach Pederson is doing what he's supposed to do, getting the team ready every week.
"Ain't nobody puttin' a whuppin' on us," Peters said.
"Whuppin" or not, they have lost five in a row now, nine of 11 since their 3-0 start. This was as close as they have come to winning during their loss streak. It was as close as a losing team is ever going to come to winning. Yet the Eagles did not win, and they will be significant underdogs for their final two games, Thursday against the Giants and on New Year's against Dallas.
"To win these last games, going into the offseason, I can't say enough (about) how big that is for this team, moving forward," Hicks said. "We need that momentum going into the offseason."
Asked about being desperate for a win, Pederson said: "I wanted to win, whether it was desperation or not."
"There's no moral victories; nobody cares about that kind of stuff," Matthews said. "We gotta come out and win. We gotta get that feeling back in our mouth."
It was right there for them, somehow, on Sunday, despite huge gaffes on both sides of the ball, yet they couldn't make it happen. More specifically, their feeble passing game couldn't make it happen, Wentz throwing for only 170 yards (22 of 42), no touchdowns and a disaster of a first-series interception.
The Ravens were playing without their top corner, Jimmy Smith, sidelined with an ankle injury, but the Eagles' longest completion of the day was 24 yards, to tight end Zach Ertz, with the Ravens playing back in the final seconds.
"This is a tremendous pass-rushing defense," Pederson said of the Ravens. "If you were on the sidelines today, you felt the wind, you felt the conditions, you felt the rain. For two quarters, we were going into a pretty stiff breeze, and the underneath throws are more accurate for the quarterback to make."
Yet, Flacco was able to hit Steve Smith Sr. with a 34-yard touchdown dagger just before halftime, taking the air out of an Eagles comeback that had transformed a 10-3, first-quarter deficit into a brief, 14-13 lead. It was their only lead of the day, and it lasted 90 seconds.
Of course, Flacco has Steve Smith Sr., who moved into seventh place on the all-time receiving yards list with that catch. He caught only one other ball the rest of the afternoon, for 6 yards, but that was enough.
Mike Wallace got Flacco 54 yards on a slant, the play before the Hicks pick. Take away Smith's 34-yarder and Wallace's slant, and the pride of Audubon, N.J., threw for 118 yards, 14-for-27. But of course, you can't take away those two plays.
It was that sort of day for the Eagles' defense, dominant at times, like when a Fletcher Cox sack took the Ravens out of Justin Tucker field-goal range, completely incompetent at other times, like when it gave up 41- and 39-yard runs, plus a 16-yard touchdown run on which safety Rodney McLeod again seemed reluctant to come out of the end zone and challenge. McLeod said he lost track of where he was and erroneously worried about a cutback.
If you're a bright-side person, the pass rush was good, with three sacks of Flacco and a bunch of forced throwaways. Wentz led a final-minutes touchdown drive. And the running game was stunning, considering the opponent.
"It just came down to sheer patience and determination, and the offensive line," said Pederson, whose o-line started its fifth right tackle of the season, rookie Isaac Seumalo. Original starter Lane Johnson served the final installment of his 10-game suspension; Johnson can return to NovaCare on Monday.
"We got in a rhythm today," said Kelce, who frequently rampaged through the second level, along with Peters. "Ryan Mathews was running extremely well, extremely hard . . . It just felt like we got on a roll."
Not enough of a roll to try to run for the winning points, though.