GLENDALE, AZ --Kevin Curtis provided the spark. DeSean Jackson fueled the blaze. But the Eagles could not keep the fire rolling in the desert as the Arizona Cardinals utilized a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to beat the Eagles, 32-25, in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Eagles trailed much of the game. At halftime, they were down 24-6. But they rallied, and it was a 50-yard reception by Curtis that gave the Eagles life.
But on a fourth-and-10 with 1:57 left, Curtis was unable to keep the season alive. Quarterback Donovan McNabb fired the ball down the right sideline. Even though it appeared as if cornerback Rod Hood pulled him down before he could make the catch, the ball bounced off of Curtis and fell to the ground. Hood, a former Eagle, exacted revenge on his former team. This was the last legitimate shot that the Eagles had.
"I ran my route and obviously there was some contact. Unfortunately, I fell down and stumbled. It's completely out of my hands. You can't really leave it in (the referees' hands)," Curtis said. "It's a big game and they don't want to call that. I felt like I was able to get my hands on the ball and I should have come up with it." Photo Gallery : PHI vs. ARZ 1-18-09
Curtis had four catches, but led the way with 122 receiving yards. It was a third-and-18 grab by Curtis in the third quarter that allowed the Eagles to get back in the game in the first place. Curtis ran down the right sideline and got behind the safety. McNabb fired the ball deep and Curtis made an amazing grab despite two defenders closing in on the ball.
"We took a shot downfield and normally that's not the first read. I got behind the safety there and Don saw something. The safety didn't get his depth and Don threw a perfect pass," Curtis said.
The Eagles scored on that drive when Brent Celek hauled in a 6-yard touchdown from McNabb to cut the Cardinals' lead to 11. Celek added another touchdown later in the third quarter to draw the Eagles to within five points. Celek led the team with 10 catches for 83 yards.
It appeared as if the comeback was complete and an improbable run at the Super Bowl title would continue for the Eagles thanks to Jackson. Matched up against another rookie, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jackson raced down the right sideline and McNabb lofted the ball downfield. Rodgers-Cromartie went up for the ball but could not come down with it. Jackson bobbled it twice, but once he secured it he waltzed in for a 62-yard touchdown.
"I felt that 29 (Rodgers-Cromartie) was getting tired ... We knew we had a great play. It was a great throw by Donovan and it was just up to me to make the catch," said Jackson, who finished with six catches for 92 yards.
The opportunity to make what was nearly the game-winning touchdown was a reward for a hustle play that bailed out the Eagles earlier in the game. McNabb threw a pass intended for Celek that was intercepted by Aaron Francisco. As Francisco was off to the races, Jackson chased him down from behind and stripped the ball which was recovered by Jon Runyan.
Jackson spent the entire first half telling his teammates to keep fighting, to not give up.
It wasn't enough. And the Eagles can only sit back and wonder what might have been.