Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Biggest Postseason Heartbreaks
The Philadelphia Eagles have been around since 1933. In that time, the Eagles have had a lot of great, signature wins. The Miracle at the Meadowlands. 4th-and-26. Miracle at the Meadowlands, Part II (gotta love that call by the great Merrill Reese on 94.1 WYSP).
However, in the now 80 years that the Eagles have been in existence, they have never won a Super Bowl. Granted, they won three NFL championships before the Super Bowl became an entity, but the 0-for-46 drought is certainly not easy to ignore for the Eagle faithful.
The Eagles' propensity for losing postseason games is well-documented, so it's high time that a list was made to commemorate the Birds' most crushing playoff losses. That's what this list is about: counting down the playoff losses which have hurt Eagles fans the most, in order of least to most crushing defeats.
It's a testament to the Eagles that they've lost more playoff games than a lot of teams have been in. That being said, this list is meant as a testament to the Eagles fans (like this writer) who have stuck with this team, through thick and thin, through wins and (more than their fair share of) losses.
10. 1988: The Fog Bowl (Bears 20, Eagles 12)
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Three years after the Bears' Super Bowl run, the career of Walter Payton was winding down and the Monsters of the Midway looked more vulnerable than ever. Although the Bears were favored in this divisional-round playoff matchup, the versatility of Randall Cunningham and the dominating defense of Philadelphia had many in and out of Philadelphia thinking upset.
That anticipation dissipated rapidly as Chicago took a two-score lead into halftime following a long touchdown pass from Bears quarterback Mike Tomczak to Dennis McKinnon in the first quarter. It was after the Bears had built this lead that a heavy fog rolled into Soldier Field.
Despite not being able to see many of his downfield targets, Cunningham was able to pass for 407 yards as the Eagles mounted a comeback in the third quarter. Two Luis Zendejas field goals brought the Eagles to within five points, but the Birds were not able to reach the end zone in the highly abnormal conditions.
It's highly possible that the Eagles would have lost anyway, which is why this game ranks so low on the list, but many wonder what Cunningham would've been able to do in that second half had he been able to make long passes and see the whole field (especially since the Eagles' D knocked Tomczak out of the game in the third quarter, forcing backup Jim McMahon to come in).
9. 2000: NFC Divisional Playoffs (Giants 20, Eagles 10)
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The Eagles had just reached their first postseason in the Andy Reid era, and were feeling good after a 21-3 wild-card round win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That excitement was quickly tempered in the following week, when the Birds went to East Rutherford to take on the New York Giants, who had beaten them twice that season.
Big Blue set the tone right from the opening kickoff, which Ron Dixon returned 97 yards for a touchdown. The knockout blow came in the second quarter, when Jason Sehorn returned a Donovan McNabb interception 32 yards for a touchdown. Despite a 20-10 loss, the Eagles were the only team on the day to score an offensive touchdown (a pass from McNabb to Torrance Small, in the fourth quarter after the outcome had already been decided).
8. 2002: NFC Championship Game (Rams 29, Eagles 24)
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A year after that Giants loss, the Eagles made it to their first NFC Championship Game since 1981. The Eagles didn't expect to compete with the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" offense, led by head coach/former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, but found themselves in a ballgame in the second quarter after a Duce Staley touchdown run tied the game at 10.
Philadelphia took the lead late in the second with a 12-yard touchdown from Donovan McNabb to Todd Pinkston, but the Rams answered with a 10-0 run in the third quarter to retake the lead. After another touchdown from Faulk, the Rams put themselves up by 12.
A late Eagles rally ultimately fell short, culminating in an Aeneas Williams interception and leaving the Eagles five points away from forcing overtime for a Super Bowl berth. Both of Faulk's touchdowns nearly became goal-line stands (each was from one yard out).
7. 1990: NFC Wild Card (Redskins 20, Eagles 6)
Former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs
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The Eagles fielded some excellent teams in the late 80's and early 90's. Unfortunately, the NFC East was in a boom period when the Eagles hit their stride in the Reggie White-Randall Cunningham era. There was a stretch where, in three consecutive years, every team in the current NFC East other than the Eagles won a Super Bowl.
The year after losing in the wild-card round to the L.A. Rams, the Eagles returned to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. There, they ran into the buzzsaw that was the Washington Redskins (led by head coach Joe Gibbs, pictured). It was a battle of 10-6 teams, but the quality of these clubs was clearly not even.
After the Eagles started off with a 6-0 lead, the Redskins scored the last 20 points of the game, with both of their touchdowns coming on passes from Mark Rypien (one of the targets, Art Monk, would later become an Eagle himself).
In front of a hometown crowd, Cunningham was sacked five times, and managed to throw for just 205 yards. Darrell Green picked off Cunningham during the game, and Eagles running back Heath Sherman managed just 53 yards.
After beating the Redskins 28-14 in their previous matchup (the game was known as the "Body Bag Game" because of how many Redskins and Eagles had to be carted off the field), this was not the outcome the Eagles had in mind.
6. 2010: NFC Wild Card (Packers 21, Eagles 16)
The Eagles had earned the division title after a drubbing of the hated Dallas Cowboys, and now faced a team who they had already faced in Week 1. Clay Matthews was the guy who delivered the hit on Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb which put Michael Vick in the game that first week. Now, in a full-circle moment, Vick and the Eagles would have to try to figure out Matthews and company to keep their season alive.
Philly was not up to the task at first. The Packers opened up the game with two touchdown passes (to Tom Crabtree and James Jones, respectively), and led 21-10 going into the fourth quarter after a third touchdown by Aaron Rodgers to running back Brandon Jackson.
Vick scored on a quarterback scramble, though, and the lead dwindled to 21-16. The Eagles got the ball back with just under two minutes to play, and a 28-yard pass from Vick to DeSean Jackson instilled hope for a comeback. But after an 11-yard catch by Riley Cooper put the ball at Green Bay's 24-yard-line, Vick went back to Cooper on a fade route in the end zone.
The Packers' Tramon Williams was waiting for it, intercepting the pass and putting the Pack back on their eventual road to a Super Bowl crown.
Heartbreaking anecdote: The Eagles' first two-point conversion attempt after Vick's touchdown run would have allowed the Eagles to kick a field goal to tie on their last drive, but Brent Celek stepped out of bounds before catching the pass in the end zone.
5. 2004: NFC Championship Game (Panthers 14, Eagles 3)
The Eagles had reached their third straight NFC Championship Game, and after the heartbreak of the previous two, the timing and circumstances seemed ripe for a Super Bowl trip. The Carolina Panthers had never been this far in their team's history, and were playing their third straight road game.
In this game, however, they steamrolled the Eagles' usually reliable offense. Philadelphia was unable to reach the end zone, and Donovan McNabb was knocked out of the game in the second half. McNabb was about as effective off of the field as he was on it, going 10-for-22 with 100 yards and three interceptions (all to cornerback Ricky Manning, Jr., who proceeded to fall back into obscurity following the game).
The Eagles had finished first in the NFC that year, but their season had come crashing down just a game shy of the Super Bowl.
Weeks later, the truth came out that several of the Panthers players were allegedly using performance enhancing drugs (including starting running back Stephen Davis and punter Todd Sauerbrun, among others). By then, however, it was too late. The Eagles were watching Tom Brady win his second ring from their couches.
4. 1981: Super Bowl XV (Raiders 27, Eagles 10)
Less than half a decade after needing to hold open tryouts to find talent, head coach Dick Vermeil had led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl. With a 13-3 regular season record, Philadelphia's hopes were high as they prepared to take on the 11-5 Raiders, with their journeyman quarterback Jim Plunkett. The Raiders were a wild-card entry, and the Eagles felt pretty good about their chances to win football's ultimate prize.
Those hopes, however, were dashed pretty quickly. Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski's first pass of the game was intercepted by Raiders linebacker Rod Martin. Martin would go on to collect three interceptions in this game. (Sensing a pattern here?)
Leading 7-0 already, Plunkett found wideout Kenny King for an 80-yard touchdown pass, the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history to that point. A first quarter touchdown pass by Jaworski to Rodney Parker was called back thanks to a penalty.
With the score 14-3, Raider Hall of Famer Ted Hendricks blocked a field goal that would have made the contest a one-possession game. The momentum shift was huge, as the Raiders came out in the second half and scored ten points on their next two drives, including a 29-yard touchdown reception by Cliff Branch.
Wilbert Montgomery, the Eagles' leading rusher in this game and proprietor of one of the Eagles' greatest plays of all time in their previous game, managed just 44 yards in a contest which could have been a great triumph for the Eagles.
Instead, it was just another painstaking defeat.
3. 2009: NFC Championship Game (Cardinals 32, Eagles 25)
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The Eagles snuck into the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record, then beat the Vikings and the defending Super Bowl champion Giants en route to the NFC Championship Game. With just the 9-7 Cardinals standing between them and a Super Bowl berth that seemed somewhat like destiny for a team that had been counted out numerous times, but bounced back after each setback, Eagles fans once again let their guard down slightly.
As any Philadelphia sports fan knows, however, that's when the inevitable soul-crushing defeat takes place.
There were two heartbreaks in this game: the loss itself, and the manner in which the defeat occurred. The first half belonged to Larry Fitzgerald, who caught three touchdown passes in the game's first 30 minutes. Heading into halftime, the Eagles were down by a score of 24-6.
Just as they had done all season, the Eagles responded. A 90-yard scoring drive was finished off by a six-yard touchdown to Brent Celek (following a critical catch on third-and-long by Kevin Curtis), and after two David Akers field goals, a 62-yard touchdown catch by rookie DeSean Jackson had the Eagles in the lead, 25-24.
Then came the knockout punch. A 14-play drive, which featured a fourth-down conversion near midfield on a run by Tim Hightower, put the Cards back in front. Hightower would end up scoring on an eight-yard reception.
Fitzgerald's 152 receiving yards gave him 419 in his first three playoff games, an NFL record. The Eagles were now 1-4 in conference championship games in the Andy Reid era.
2. 2005: Super Bowl XXXIX (Patriots 24, Eagles 21)
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After three consecutive seasons of stellar Eagle efforts ending in the NFC Championship Game, the Eagles finally made it over the hump, beating the Falcons 27-10 to earn their second trip to the Big Game in franchise history. There, they met the defending champion New England Patriots. The Pats were favored, but with hobbled star receiver Terrell Owens on the field for the Eagles, Philly had a shot.
An early McNabb fumble was overturned, but McNabb wasted another opportunity with a red-zone interception to Rodney Harrison. The Eagles ended up striking first in the second quarter with a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end L.J. Smith. Brady and company came right back and eventually tied the game right before halftime with a David Givens touchdown grab.
Mike Vrabel, the Pats' linebacker, ended up scoring as a tight end to open the second half, but a Brian Westbrook touchdown tied the game once again. The Patriots took a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter, but a late Greg Lewis touchdown put Philly within a field goal.
A late last drive by the Eagles, however, ended up with an exhausted McNabb dry-heaving on the field and another Harrison interception. Despite forcing four turnovers and an extraordinary performance by T.O. (nine catches for 122 yards), the Eagles ended up with yet another Super Bowl disappointment.
1. 2003: NFC Championship Game (Bucs 27, Eagles 10)
A lot of Eagles fans will tell you they were at this game. Truth be told, it was a hard ticket to get. The Eagles were facing a team they had demolished the year before in the playoffs, then beaten again earlier in the regular season. After a loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Rams the year before, a Super Bowl berth was the next logical progression.
Boisterous doesn't even begin to describe the crowd on this day. It was the final game at Veterans Stadium, and everything from the pregame coin toss to the jet flyover seemed to have an extra air of panache and circumstance to it.
Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70 yards, Duce Staley scored from 20 yards out and the Eagles were up 7-0 early. But a Martin Gramatica field goal, followed by a 96-yard drive capped by a Mike Alstott touchdown, put the Bucs ahead. It was the first Bucs' touchdown against the Eagles in the playoffs.
After Akers tied it with a field goal, Brad Johnson threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Keyshawn Johnson. Tampa had the lead for good from this point on.
McNabb lost fumbles on two straight drives, one to Simeon Rice and another to Ronde Barber. After another Gramatica field goal, the Eagles made one last final push to get back in the game, driving down to the Tampa 10-yard-line with just over three minutes to go.
Then Barber picked off McNabb and took it back 90 yards the other way to seal the first road victory in Buccaneers history.
With that, the Vet and the Eagles hopes were finished. January 19 will forever go down as "Black Sunday" in Eagles history.
My father, and Eagles fan since 1966, watched 30 years worth of terrible Eagles teams and beatdowns. After attending this game, he announced that it was the worst loss he'd ever seen.
Hundreds of thousands of Eagles fans would agree.