The last drive shouldn't have mattered.

And it wouldn't have, if the Eagles had managed to do better than a paltry two of 13 on third-down conversions against the New York Giants yesterday.

It wouldn't have, if Brian Westbrook hadn't fumbled in the third quarter, leading to the Giants' only touchdown of the day, a 20-yard pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress that put New York ahead for good.

It wouldn't have, if the Eagles hadn't committed so many penalties at key moments, like guard Todd Herremans's false start on first and goal at the Giants' 8-yard-line, or if their wide receivers had gotten open more against a beat-up New York secondary.

But because of all that, the last drive did matter.

And the final four plays from scrimmage, which set up David Akers' 57-yard field goal attempt with six seconds left, brought back the indigestion of a certain drive in Jacksonville three years ago, when the Eagles also didn't manage the clock well.

Akers's kick, long enough, doinked off the left upright, making the Eagles 16-13 losers and leaving their faint playoff hopes little more than a mathematical possibility.

"We got off some big plays downfield, and you've got to remember, when you complete a 30-yard pass, you've got to get your offensive line down," Donovan McNabb said. "Big guys have got to run down, and you're eating up clock, and you've got to make a decision on what play to call."

It was emblematic of the excruciating ways the Eagles have lost all season, from letting the Bears go 97 yards with no timeouts, to throwing fourth-quarter interceptions against New England and Seattle, to not getting the job done in the red zone against Washington and Green Bay.

"What separates bad teams from good teams, and good teams from great teams, is what they do in the last couple of minutes," linebacker Takeo Spikes said.

Starting from their 11, the Eagles had 53 seconds left and no timeouts. On first down, McNabb completed a 19-yard pass to Reggie Brown, who was tackled inbounds with 47 seconds remaining. Coach Andy Reid opted to call another play from scrimmage instead of having McNabb spike the ball and save some extra seconds.

"We thought it was best just to keep going with what we had," Reid said.

McNabb then hit Greg Lewis over the middle for 18 yards to the 48, but there was now only 24 seconds left. Again, the offense had to scramble.

"We were just trying to get there as fast as we could, and that clock was running, man," guard Shawn Andrews said.

Making matters worse, Westbrook was still 20 yards upfield, having been corralled by Giants cornerback Sam Madison. By the time Westbrook extricated himself and sprinted downfield, and McNabb spiked the ball, only 12 seconds remained.

"The ref shouldn't allow that type of thing to happen at the end of the game, when they're trying to slow us down from getting to the line," Westbrook said.

McNabb was able to find Brown again, and Brown stepped out at the Giants' 39 after a 13-yard gain. There were six seconds remaining - theoretically, enough time to try a quick pass. But the Giants were dropping eight defenders into coverage, and Reid didn't want to gamble, even if it left Akers with long odds.

"That was past the max" of Akers's range, Reid said. "It was farther than we wanted to be, but that's what we had."

Contact David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.