This season for the Philadelphia Eagles ended exactly the way virtually every season under Andy Reid's 12-year tenure has ended: a gut-wrenching, heartbreaking loss in the playoffs leaving Eagles fans to once again wait for next year.
Losing is never easy but losing in the playoffs is even worse. Andy Reid has lost 73 regular-season games in a dozen seasons under the helm of the Eagles—actually a remarkably low total compared to league average—plus nine more in the playoffs.
That's 82 times I felt my heart being ripped out and torn to pieces. To anyone who says football is just a game, you're not a fan.
I compiled a list of the 25 most painful losses of the Andy Reid era. The higher the stakes of the game, the more difficult the loss was to handle. Injuries to key players made it worse. Fourth quarter losses were given special consideration. And any loss to the Cowboys or the Giants—well that's as bad as it gets.
Background Information: Following a 38-3 thrashing of the St. Louis Rams in the NFL's opening week, the Eagles traveled to Texas to take on the reigning NFC East Champion Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in a game that had all the potential of an all-time classic. It also featured the NFC East's 2007 champion (Cowboys) against its 2006 champion (Eagles).
What Happened: From an NFL standpoint, it was arguably the best game of the 2008 season - seven lead changes and 78 total points from two of the league's top offenses. The Eagles took a 30-24 halftime lead (remember DeSean Jackson throwing the ball away at the 1?) before the Cowboys scored 17 second-half points, capped by Marion Barber's game-winning four yard touchdown run with 4:35 to play.
Heartbreaking Factor: This was one of the more heartbreaking losses I have watched. With possession of the ball and down by four near midfield with just over a minute to go, Donovan McNabb was sacked by DeMarcus Ware and a failed 4th and 17 hook and ladder pass sealed the fate.
Long-Term Effects: The Giants (12-4) ran away with the division that season and when the Eagles trounced the Cowboys 44-6 in a Week 17 rematch to determine which team would earn the NFC's final playoff spot, this game really didn't matter anymore.
Background Information: Led by Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers were many experts' preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, while the Eagles were eager to show off their new hopeful franchise quarterback Kevin Kolb, a player in whom the Eagles had so much confidence that management shipped six-time Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb off to division rival Washington D.C.
What Happened: Green Bay's defense knocked Kolb out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion, and a late comeback rally by Michael Vick wasn't enough for the Eagles to prevail. Vick became just the third quarterback in Eagles history to pass for 175 yards and run for over 100 in the same game, and he did it in 30 minutes of action. But the Eagles were lucky to come out of the game still intact, as Kolb was nearly decapitated by linebacker Clay Matthews, All-Pro fullback Leonard Weaver suffered a gruesome ACL tear, starting center Jamaal Jackson tore his biceps, and starting linebacker Stewart Bradley was dealt a concussion as well.
Heartbreaking Factor: The Eagles got the ball back with just over four minutes to play but Vick was stopped by Matthews on a 4th and 1 quarterback sneak from midfield. For the Eagles to lose four starters due to injury and still nearly win the game was impressive but the way the Eagles lost - failing to convert a fourth and short - was heartbreaking.
Long-Term Effects: I can't remember a regular-season game impacting a season as much as this one did. Philly fans should feel eternally grateful to Matthews for allowing Vick the opportunity to showcase his skills this season and the loss of fullback Weaver became easier when Owen Schmitt was signed as a free agent and went on to have a Pro Bowl caliber season, but the Eagles never recovered from the loss of center Jamaal Jackson and Bradley was never the same for the remainder of the year.
Background Information: The Eagles were sitting at 3-1 and looking to make another run for an NFC East title, while the 1-4 Oakland Raiders had been outscored by at least 20 points in each of their previous three games. This was a game the Eagles should have won by 35 points.
What Happened: The Eagles went out and played arguably the worst 60 minutes of football under Andy Reid. Donovan McNabb & Co. were held without a touchdown on offense and Pro Bowl kicker David Akers missed two field goals that proved very costly. The Eagles converted just 2 of 16 third downs, gave up six sacks, and gave up an 86 yard touchdown pass from Russell to tight end Zach Miller that should go up on the Eagles' Wall of Shame.
The Heartbreaking Factor: The Eagles drove inside Oakland territory with just over two minutes to play before McNabb missed DeSean Jackson on a 4th and 4 conversion. It's especially frustrating when a top-notch offense is unable to muster a single touchdown against a perennial 4-12 team.
Long-Term Effects: Technically, if we had won this game, we would have gone on to have the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but then again, you could say that for any loss. It was more a pride issue. Losing to the Raiders is up there with playing to a tie with the Bengals. All season, I had to hear, "Yeah, you might be in first place but you lost to the Raiders."
Background Information: This was quickly becoming a nightmare of a season for the Philadelphia Eagles, as Donovan McNabb was already lost for the season and backup Mike McMahon managed to turn an entire city against him by the end of his first start.
What Happened: You know how I said the Oakland game was the worst 60 minutes of football I have ever watched? I take that back. This one wins. Or loses, should I say. Mike McMahon and Koy Detmer went 17 of 39 passing for 125 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions, and two lost fumbles. Six turnovers from our quarterbacks. The Seahawks also scored THREE defensive touchdowns in the contest. Three. It was a painful, brutal, humiliating loss on Monday Night Football.
The Heartbreaking Factor: This wasn't enough of a game to have anything heartbreaking about it. It was over four weeks ago when McNabb was sent to IR. The Seahawks scored 35 points in the first half. They could have scored 60 if they had tried. It was just awful.
Long-Term Effects: None. Not really, at least. We were done already. We fell from 5-6 on the season to 5-7. Either way, we weren't going to make the playoffs. It was a game to forget in a season to forget.
Background Information: The Eagles were 5-4 and right in the thick of the NFC East race, led by Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb and his NFL-leading 18 touchdown passes. The 2-7 Titans were led by their rookie quarterback Vince Young, the No. 3 overall pick in the past NFL draft.
What Happened: McNabb tore his ACL, putting the Eagles' star leader on IR for the second consecutive season. The Eagles were outplayed on all three facets - offense, defense, and special teams - going down 24-6 in the third quarter en route to an eventual 31-13 defeat. The defense looked lost on Travis Henry's 70 yard TD run and Pacman Jones' 90 yard punt return for a score, but nothing compared to seeing McNabb on the ground injured - again.
The Heartbreaking Factor: The Eagles managed to hang with the Titans for the first half, as Tennessee clung to just a 10-6 lead at the intermission, but multiple blunders by the Eagles simply handed the Titans the game. A late 16 yard fumble return for a touchdown by Keith Bulluck all but ended the game.
Long-Term Effects: The Eagles lost again the following week to a powerful Indianapolis Colts offense, but then the team embarked on a five-game winning streak that saw Philly capture the division title and even win a playoff game against the division rival Giants. Maybe the Eagles needed a change of pace at quarterback, and the fiesty, natural-born leader Garcia proved to be the answer.
Background Information: Another Week 13 game against Seattle under similar circumstances - the Eagles entered the contest backed by their backup quarterback. In this case, it was A.J. Feeley, as Donovan McNabb missed just two games nursing a sprained right ankle. The Eagles were 5-6 and desperately trying to stay alive in the NFC playoff race, while the Seahawks - two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance—were 7-4.
What Happened: Despite Feeley's four interceptions, the Eagles managed to stay within a score of the Seahawks throughout the contest. Seattle's middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu recorded three interceptions, including the game-sealing one with a minute to play, almost single-handedly disrupting the entire Eagles' offense. Brian Westbrook was the unsung hero, rushing for 93 yards and a score, catching seven passes for 46 yards, and returning a punt 64 yards late in the game to give the Eagles tremendous field position, but it wasn't enough to overshadow Feeley's four pick day.
Heartbreaking Factor: This was one of the five most heartbreaking losses I can remember the Eagles suffering. With 1:16 to play and the Birds down 28-24, Brian Westbrook took a punt from the Eagles' 22 to the Seahawks' 11, setting up what should have been a tremendous win. In reality, Feeley's third down pass was picked off, sealing the Eagles' fate.
Long-Term Effects: The Eagles (8-8) finished a game back of the Redskins (9-7) in the NFC wild card race, missing the playoffs for just the third time in Andy Reid's nine seasons as head coach.
Background Information: The Eagles were 5-4-1 and coming off arguably the most dismal 75 minutes of action in NFL history, as Donovan McNabb & Co. played the lowly 1-11 Bengals to a 13-13 tie. A strong performance against a quality opponent here was desperately needed for the Eagles to remain in contention for the NFC East.
What Happened: Andy Reid made quite possibly his most controversial move in 10 years as a head coach, benching five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb for unproven and untried second-year backup Kevin Kolb. McNabb was 8 of 18 for 59 yards, two interceptions, a fumble, and a frightening 13.2 passer rating in the first half, but Kolb managed to outdue his mentor, etching his name into the record books on Ed Reed's 107 yard interception return touchdown, still the longest interception return in the history of the game.
Heartbreaking Factor: The game was never close enough to be a heartbreaker but I think seeing my favorite player in the history of professional sports standing on the sidelines in a three-point game wondering if he'll ever take another snap for the Philadelphia Eagles was a low point as an Eagles fan.
Long-Term Effects: Reid's decision to sit McNabb paid off as McNabb - playing for his job four days later on Thanksgiving Night against the Arizona Cardinals—tossed four touchdown passes and led the Eagles to 48 points. The Eagles went on to win four of their last five games following his benching and sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team.
Background Information: Fresh off the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, it was Tuesday Night Football, and the Eagles were taking on the Minnesota Vikings, their interim head coach, and a third-string quarterback by the name of Joe Webb, who was filling in for injured ironman Brett Favre. A first round bye seemed very plausible for the Eagles, who just needed to beat the underachieving Vikings and Cowboys and hope for a Bears loss.
What Happened: The Eagles turned up flat, dead, and lifeless. Michael Vick suddenly looked beatable, Joe Webb picked apart the Eagles as if he were Peyton Manning, the Birds had no answer for Adrian Peterson, and after having scored 28 points in the final 7:28 against the Giants, the Eagles mustered just 14 in 60 minutes of action against the Vikings.
Heartbreaking Effect: The Eagles were only down by two scores late in the game, and after what happened the week before against the Giants, a comeback seemed like a real possibility. It never happened though and the Eagles fell flat in the first Tuesday game in the NFL in 64 years.
Long-Term Effects: This was costly. A win over the Vikings here would have given the Eagles the No. 2 seed, and a wild card date with the Packers would have turned into a divisional round matchup with the Seahawks.
Background Information: The 5-3 Eagles were coming off three straight wins and looking like a team that could challenge the 7-1 Giants and make a run at the NFC East title.
What Happened: A lot of scoring, as the two teams combined for 77 total points. The Giants took a 20-17 lead into halftime before 10 fourth-quarter points put the Eagles in a 36-31 hole that the team couldn't quite overcome. This game epitomized one of Andy Reid's biggest problems as a head coach: failure to convert third and short situations. The Eagles missed a fourth and one conversion attempt late in the game, falling five points short and three games behind the Giants in the NFC East.
The Heartbreaking Factor: This game was brutal near the end. Down by five with just over three minutes remaining, the Eagles started from their own 14 and soon faced a fourth and one from their own 45 with just under two minutes left. Brian Westbrook was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Giants took over on downs.
Long-Term Effects: This essentially ended our shot at winning a division title and vaulted the Eagles into arguably the worst stretch in franchise history—the infamous tie to the Bengals and the McNabb benching against the Ravens the following week.
Background Information: The Eagles were just 1-2 on the season but coming off a record-breaking performance in which the offense lit it up for 56 points in a win over the visiting Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. Meanwhile, the Giants had struggled on defense, giving up an average of 40 points per game in its first two contests.
What Happened: Pressure from a relentless defensive line that would go on to lead the Giants to a victory in Super Bowl XLII sacked Donovan McNabb an NFL-record-tying 12 times. Osi Umenyiora lined up against rookie Winston Justice, who was filling in for injured Pro Bowler Tra Thomas, and recorded six sacks, one short of the single-game record. Meanwhile, the Eagles' offense—without the services of Brian Westbrook—scored just three points. It was an ugly ugly game. The Eagles also committed 15 penalties, allowed the Giants to score a defensive touchdown, and totaled just 190 yards on the day.
The Heartbreaking Factor: The Eagles were never in this game, entering the fourth quarter down by 16 points. The final score of 16-3 is much closer than the actual result, which should have been a 40-0 victory by the Giants.
Long-Term Effect: The Eagles ended the year 8-8 and the Giants two games up at 10-6 and the NFC's No. 5 seed. Although this was early in the season still, the Eagles never came close to overcoming their horrid 1-3 start, eventually falling to 5-8 and missing the playoffs.
Background Information: The stage was set. The Eagles had just been handed a humiliating 27-10 loss by the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game in the final game at Veterans Stadium. It was fitting that the two teams would meet to kick off the 2003 NFL season, with the Eagles again playing hosts, this time in the brand-new Lincoln Financial Field on Monday Night Football.
What Happened: For the second time in as many games, the Bucs completely stifled the Eagles, handing the Birds an embarrassing 17-0 defeat. Donovan McNabb was held to just 148 passing yards and Joe Jurevicius—who burned the Eagles for a 71 yard reception back in the title game—caught two touchdown passes in the rout.
Heartbreaking Factor: The game was never close but this was an absolutely devastating loss. The Eagles showed off their $520 million stadium and then went out and laid a goose egg against a team that had marched into Philadelphia and taken the NFC crown from the Eagles back in January.
Long-Term Effects: The Bucs actually finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs, while the Eagles won 12 games and locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Background Information: The 12-3 Eagles had won six straight after Donovan McNabb suffered a broken ankle back in Week 11 and were in position to not only clinch home field advantage with a victory, but also keep the Giants out of the playoffs.
What Happened: For 60 minutes of football, the Giants gave the game to the Eagles, but the Birds couldn't capitalize. Giants' running back Tiki Barber lost three fumbles, but his 203 rushing yards and a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass to rookie Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey tied the game at seven apiece. When David Akers missed a potential game-winning 35 yard field goal with 1:16 to play, the Giants won it on Matt Bryant's 39 yarder in overtime.
The Heartbreaking Factor: This was a brutal game as an Eagles fan. Four Giants turnovers weren't enough, as Akers shanked a chip shot late in the fourth quarter that would have won it.
Long-Term Effects: The Eagles lucked out, as the Jets pummeled the Packers 40-17 the next day, giving the Eagles home-field advantage throughout the playoffs despite their 10-7 loss.
Background Information: The Eagles entered the game struggling for the season at 4-4, following consecutive losses. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was having a career season but had been plagued by a sports hernia for most of the season, and All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens had just been suspended for conduct detrimental to the team.
What Happened: The Eagles controlled the game, the score, and the outcome for the first 57 minutes, using a strong balance of passes and runs to take a 20-7 lead. After that, everything collapsed, as Drew Bledsoe connected with Terry Glenn for a 20 yard touchdown to cut the score to 20-14 and a McNabb interception to Roy Williams was taken back for what proved to be the game-winning score. To make matters worse, McNabb aggravated his groin on the play and was subsequently lost for the season.
Heartbreaking Factor: The Eagles got the ball back on their own 35, down by one, with 45 seconds to play. Backup quarterback Mike McMahon was under center (how intimidating for the Cowboys) and led the Eagles to the Cowboys' 42. A drop by Reggie Brown would have put the Eagles in perfect field goal position, but the Eagles eventually faced a fourth and one with four ticks on the clock. A David Akers 60 yard field goal fell miserably short, and the Eagles were handed a debilitating defeat.
Long-Term Effects: Not only did this game put the Eagles at 4-5 and two games back of both the Cowboys and Giants in the NFC East race, but McNabb was lost for the season and we as fans had to endure seven merciless games of The Mike McMahon Era.
Background Information: The Eagles entered the game at 4-2 and in first place in the NFC East, thriving behind a strong first half of the season by quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Bucs were four years removed from their Super Bowl championship and at just 1-4 on the year.
What Happened: The Bucs built a 17-0 lead behind two Ronde Barber interception touchdowns before Donovan McNabb & Co. led the Eagles on a ferocious comeback, putting up 21 points in the final 15:36 of the game. A 52 yard Brian Westbrook screen pass for a touchdown with just 33 seconds to play put the Eagles on top and all but secured a 21-20 win.
Heartbreaking Factor: Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski got the ball back and methodically marched the Bucs from their own 36 to the Eagles' 44 in 23 seconds, giving way to journeyman kicker Matt Bryant, whose 62 yard field goal as time expired propelled the Bucs to an improbable win. Despite the Eagles outgaining the Bucs in total yards 506-196, the third longest field goal in the history of the game was the nail to the coffin.
Long-Term Effects: The Eagles still went on to make the playoffs behind a furious second-half win streak led by Jeff Garcia, but I have never fully recovered from this game. For weeks afterwards, I would have nightmares of Bryant's 62 yard field goal.
Background Information: The Eagles entered the game a rejuvenated team after the Donovan McNabb benching a month earlier, having won three straight to stay alive in the NFC playoff race. A win over the Redskins would be a huge step for the Eagles while a loss would all but eliminate them.
What Happened: The Eagles just couldn't find the end zone. For 56 minutes, the Redskins held the Eagles to just a single field goal. Down 10-3 with 3:48 to play, McNabb got the ball back on the Eagles' own nine yard line and proceeded to efficiently march the Eagles down the field. DeSean Jackson dropped a long touchdown pass in the end zone with a minute to go (one of his four drops on the day), but the Eagles converted a 4th and 4 and soon faced a 2nd and 10 from the Redskins' 18 with 12 seconds—and no timeouts.
The Heartbreaking Factor: You couldn't have scripted a more heartbreaking ending. Reggie Brown caught a pass from Donovan McNabb at the 1 yard line—more like the six inch line—and was hit hard by two Redskins defenders, thrown five yards back in the air, and all I remember is Merrill Reese saying, "And I think the Eagles season has just ended!"
Long-Term Effects: We entered the next week—a showdown against Dallas—with a 9.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Pro Football Prospectus. By some miracle, the Oakland Raiders managed to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Houston Texans knocked off the Chicago Bears, setting up what was the greatest three hours of my life—a 44-6 Eagles triumph that will go down in Philadelphia sports lore.
Background Information: Playoff football. There's nothing like it. A week earlier, Donovan McNabb had led the Eagles to a 21-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, setting up a showdown at the Meadowlands with the NFC East's best that had swept the Eagles during the regular season.
What Happened: This was all Giants from the game's opening kickoff. Ron Dixon took the kick 97 yards for a score and the G-Men never looked back. Jason Sehorn added a SportsCenter Top 10 worthy interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter to put the Giants up 17-0.
Heartbreaking Factor: We were out of this game from the first play, and we never really had a chance. A late touchdown by the Eagles made the final 20-10, but it wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated.
Long-Term Effects: Well, this eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs but it did a lot long term. The Eagles became an NFC powerhouse, appearing in four consecutive championship games after that, while the Giants wouldn't win another playoff game for seven years.
Background Information: The scenario for the Eagles: Win and clinch not only the NFC East title but also the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs, which would mean a first round bye. Lose and the Eagles not only hand the division to the Dallas Cowboys, but the Eagles have to play a road playoff game in the wild card round.
What Happened: This was a nightmare from the start of the game. If you're ever going to turn a game off, this is the one. The only reason it's not higher on my list is that the Eagles had already clinched a playoff spot. The Cowboys controlled the clock for over 40 minutes, gained 474 total yards, and held the Eagles to not a single point for the Cowboys' second team shutout in as many weeks.
Heartbreaking Factor: I spent the entire game hoping, praying that the Eagles would string together a huge second-half comeback to win this. Not even close. It was a humiliating brutal loss. I have never watched the game highlights from this contest and I never intend to.
Long-Term Effects: As a result of the loss, the Eagles—who had clinched the playoffs two weeks earlier—fell to the No. 6 seed, meaning the wild card playoffs was a showdown in Dallas...again. We'll get to that game in one of my upcoming slides.
Background Information: Quarterbacked by Jeff Garcia, the Eagles had captured six straight wins, including a wild card win over the New York Giants a week earlier, and were heading to New Orleans with a lot of momentum.
What Happened: This was a tremendous contest between two highly talented teams. The Eagles took an early 7-6 lead behind a 75 yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Donte Stallworth, and consecutive touchdown runs by Brian Westbrook right before and after halftime gave the Eagles a 21-13 lead. The Saints came back with two touchdowns of their own and a late Eagles field goal wasn't enough to overcome a 27-24 deficit.
Heartbreaking Factor: This broke my heart about as much as possible. The Eagles - who had also lost to the Saints by a 27-24 score in the regular season—were down 27-24 with the Saints approaching field goal territory. An ill-advised lateral from Drew Brees to Reggie Bush gave the Eagles the ball back around the two minute warning near midfield. Facing a fourth and ten conversion, the Eagles miraculously converted but a false start by backup guard Scott Young—filling in for injured All-Pro Shawn Andrews—nullified the completion. Facing a 4th and 15, Andy Reid elected to punt (?), the Eagles couldn't stop Deuce McAllister, and that was the season.
Long-Term Effects: We were eliminated from the playoffs but it was impressive that the Eagles even made it to the divisional round after Donovan McNabb went down with an ACL tear two months earlier.
Background Information: Coming off a convincing 33-19 win in the divisional round against the Bears at Soldier Field, the Eagles were preparing to face The Greatest Show on Turf.
What Happened: From the Eagles' perspective, it was a hard-fought, clean loss. The Eagles hung in there, clinging to a 17-16 lead late in the third quarter before a pair of one-yard touchdown runs by Marshall Faulk put the Rams up 29-17. A late rushing touchdown by Donovan McNabb brought the Eagles to within five but it was too little, too late.
Heartbreaking Factor: McNabb was picked off by Aeneas Williams at midfield with a minute to play, effectively sealing the Eagles' fate. It was the farthest I had ever seen the Eagles go in the playoffs and there is absolutely no shame in losing by five to a powerhouse like the Rams.
Long-Term Effects: The Eagles earned trips to the conference championship games in each of the next three seasons following the loss to the Rams. In retrospect, I don't think the Eagles would have beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl that year.
Background Information: The Eagles squandered an opportunity to clinch a first round bye with a lame duck performance on Tuesday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings but Michael Vick & Co. were still home against a Green Bay team that snuck into the playoffs.
What Happened: Much like the first game of the regular season, the Packers' defense proved to be too much for the Eagles. DeSean Jackson missed part of the game with a foot injury and returned at less than full strength. David Akers missed two field goals, Packers' rookie running back James Starks rushed for 123 yards, and Aaron Rodgers tossed three touchdown passes for his first playoff win.
Heartbreaking Factor: About as bad as it gets. The Eagles got the ball back late in the game with shades of the comeback against the Giants in everyone's mind but it wasn't to be, as a Michael Vick pass to Riley Cooper was picked off with 30 seconds on the clock, ending the Eagles' season.
Long-Term Effects: We'll find out, I guess. We're at the exact same situation now as we were in last year at this time—following a wild card loss, we have a quarterback controversy (although I think it's safe to say that Vick will be the answer for Andy Reid).
Background Information: For the only time in the team's history, the Eagles were set to play the hated Dallas Cowboys for the second straight week. Following an atrocious 24-0 loss in the final game of the regular season, the Birds vowed to gain redemption in this wild card matchup.
What Happened: It was a despicable performance by the Eagles, who played as miserable of 60 minutes of football as I have ever seen. A 76 yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jeremy Maclin briefly tied the game at seven apiece in the second quarter but the Cowboys took a 27-7 lead into halftime and coasted to a 34-14 win.
Heartbreaking Factor: How about the entire game? Losing to Dallas is as bad as it gets in this world and losing to Dallas in the playoffs...I don't even want to write about it.
Long-Term Effects: The Cowboys were trounced by the Minnesota Vikings, 34-3, the following week, and I think it's safe to say the Eagles weren't going to go very far that year anyway. There were just too many problems with the team.
Background Information: The Eagles were fresh off the miraculous 4th and 26 game against the Green Bay Packers and hosting an overachieving Carolina Panthers team that was lucky to have made it as far as the conference championship game.
What Happened: The Eagles' receivers—James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell—were absolutely manhandled for 60 minutes of action. Donovan McNabb finished 10 of 22 for 100 yards and three interceptions before leaving due to separated rib cartilage. Brian Westbrook was unavailable for the game due to an injury suffered in the regular-season finale and the Eagles mustered just two third down conversions while turning the ball over four times.
Heartbreaking Factor: The Eagles never showed any threat of a comeback in this game, falling behind 14-3 in the third quarter. The Panthers ran the ball 40 times in the contest, essentially just running the clock down.
Long-Term Effects: Losing three straight conference championship games—that's always fun. I don't think the Eagles would have beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl that year. Then again, the Panthers lost by just three points on a last-second field goal.
Background Information: This was our year. The Eagles had rolled over Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons, 20-6, in the NFC Divisional Round, setting up a home matchup with a team the Eagles had beat by 10 earlier in the season.
What Happened: Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 70 yards and Duce Staley scored on a 20 yard run two plays later. The stadium erupted. This was it. It was finally happening. The Buccaneers scored 20 of the game's next 23 points to take a 20-10 lead into the fourth quarter. The Eagles got the ball back and drove down the field, threatening to score and gain some momentum back.
Heartbreaking Factor: And then Ronde Barber stepped in front of an ill-advised pass, taking it 92 yards for a touchdown that shocked the world. I have never gotten over this game and I never will.
Long-Term Effects: The Eagles lost, 27-10. Had we won that game, I think we would have gone on and beat the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl. I guess we'll never know.
Background Information: Following the 44-6 thrashing of Dallas in Week 17, the Eagles rolled over the Minnesota Vikings and No. 1 seed New York Giants to move to Arizona to take on the 9-7 Cardinals in what appeared to be Donovan McNabb's final opportunity to bring a Super Bowl to Philly.
What Happened: The Cardinals took a 24-6 lead following three touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald - all in the first half. The Eagles rallied back, as McNabb hit Brent Celek for two quick touchdowns before a long bomb to DeSean Jackson resulted in a juggling, 62 yard touchdown catch and a 25-24 lead for the Eagles. Kurt Warner and the Cardinals converted a third and goal from the Eagles' 8 with three minutes left to give the Cardinals the lead again, 32-25.
Heartbreaking Factor: McNabb's biggest downfall in Philly was that he could never lead a game-winning drive and this required him to do so on the grandest of stages. The Eagles picked up two first downs before a failed fourth and ten conversion to Kevin Curtis at midfield with a minute to play ended the Eagles' chances. (For the record, I will insist to this day that there was defensive pass interference against Curtis)
Long-Term Effects: Very costly. The Cardinals came within a couple of plays of winning the Super Bowl against a Steelers team that the Eagles had thrashed, 15-6, earlier in the regular season, by sacking Ben Roethlisberger nine times. For McNabb, it was the fifth time he had gotten the Eagles to within a game of the Super Bowl—and the fifth time he walked away ringless.
Background Information: Terrell Owens was ready to play, after having sat out the Eagles' previous two postseason games—wins over Minnesota and Atlanta - and all was set for the Eagles to finally deliver the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia. All that stood in the way was a dynasty led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
What Happened: It was a war from two top notch teams, as the Eagles struck first behind L.J. Smith's six yard TD reception from McNabb. Brady tossed two scores, but Brian Westbrook hauled in a 10 yarder between two defenders to tie the game at 14 heading into the fourth quarter. From there, we know the rest. The Patriots scored ten points, Greg Lewis caught a late touchdown from McNabb, there was or wasn't some vomiting, and that was the game.
Heartbreaking Factor: A lot of people forget that on the most criticized drive of his life, McNabb ended with a 30 yard touchdown strike to Lewis that brought the Eagles to within three. The team got the ball back on their own four yard line with 46 seconds left and a Rodney Harrison interception with nine seconds left sealed it.
Long-Term Effects: Look at it this way. If we had won this game, coupled with the Philadelphia Phillies' World Series Championship in 2008, my life as a sports fan would be complete. Donovan McNabb would be revered in Philadelphia (he would probably still be here), Andy Reid would soon be a Hall of Famer, and I wouldn't have spent all those years following wondering if this finally is the year.