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Josh McCown doesn't get his storybook ending

On August 17, the Eagles announced that they lured veteran quarterback Josh McCown out of retirement, albeit a brief one that lasted roughly two months, and a budding media career for a 17th NFL season.

"It was an easy sell, to be quite honest," McCown told Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro after putting pen to paper on the one-year deal.

The 40-year-old McCown's NFL journey started as a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2002. He got a sip of the playoffs as a member of Carolina in 2008, his fourth NFL team, but the 12-4 Panthers were one-and-done in the Divisional Round, a 33-13 rout at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. It left "a bad taste" for McCown, who recalled the moment this week as he prepared to back up Carson Wentz for Sunday's Wild Card showdown against Seattle.

It turns out McCown did more than provide support on the sideline.

As Wentz came to the sideline after the Eagles' second offensive possession in the first quarter, the franchise quarterback told McCown to "stay ready." Wentz was speared in the back of the head by Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's helmet on the first play of the series. Wentz finished the drive, but was clearly not himself as he came to the bench. Wentz went into the medical tent to be evaluated for a concussion. He went into the locker room and did not return.

Just like that, it was McCown's show.

McCown played all of 15 snaps in the regular season, as Wentz suited up for all 16 games for the second time in his career. McCown had 104 regular-season games, 76 starts, and 2,633 pass attempts under his belt, but none in the postseason.

Backup quarterbacks have enjoyed success in Philadelphia. From A.J. Feeley to Jeff Garcia to Michael Vick to Nick Foles in just the past 20 years alone, backup quarterbacks have shined, delivering some of the franchise's biggest wins.

For all of McCown's regular-season experience, nothing could have prepared him for the agony that comes when the ending isn't a magical one.

As the final seconds ticked off of Sunday's 17-9 loss to the Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field, McCown hugged tight end Zach Ertz with tears in his eyes. He staved off more tears in his postgame press conference until he thanked his family for its support throughout the years.

"My wife and family have moved around a lot and have been there for me. To go out there and get to play in a playoff game was special," McCown said. "I can't thank them enough for their support. It was a heck of a ride. I left it all out there, I know that much. It is different playing at 40. Your body talks to you a lot. I'll reflect on that later, but it was fun to be out there for sure."

McCown did all he could for an offense that was already without two Pro Bowl offensive linemen (guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Lane Johnson), the three starting wide receivers from Week 1, and – for all intents and purposes – the starting running back to open the season in Jordan Howard, who did not touch the ball once in his two games back from a shoulder injury.

McCown was 18-of-24 for 174 yards for a 94.8 passer rating. He was sacked six times, but did use his legs to gain 23 yards. Unfortunately, the offense, while it was able to move the ball, bogged down in the red zone where the Eagles were 0-for-3. The Eagles were 3-of-11 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down.

Still, the Eagles had fourth-and-7 from the Seattle 10-yard line with two minutes remaining in the game. McCown changed the play at the line of scrimmage, but not everyone got the call. It never stood a chance. McCown was sacked by Clowney, ironically enough, and the Seahawks ran out the clock.

"There's a lot that goes into this," McCown said. "Everybody that sets foot into (the NovaCare Complex) puts a lot into getting this thing done. When you put everything into trying to win that game, and it doesn't get done, it's just painful. It hurts.

"From my standpoint, I feel like, as a quarterback, you want to do more and you feel like you can do more. You start replaying these plays in your mind of maybe where you could have been better. I always just have that perspective of I could have been better. You feel like you let those people down that come to the building. That's a hurt feeling. You don't want to have that. So, it was just a reflection of that."

McCown didn't let anyone down. From the time he arrived in August, he instantly built chemistry with all of the players in the locker room. He served as a coach of sorts, a sounding board, for Wentz, as he regained the elite form that made him an MVP candidate in 2017. He was critical in aiding the young receivers who made the jump from the practice squad to the active roster during the four-game win streak that got the Eagles into the playoffs. McCown's first completion on Sunday was to Deontay Burnett, a former teammate of his with the Jets. McCown gave positive reviews of Burnett to the personnel staff and then worked with Burnett after he arrived on the practice squad in December.

Whenever a teammate made a play, McCown exuded the joy of a child, cheering that person on. He always had words of encouragement for his teammates coming off the field. He would even run out on the field to help a player fix his shoulder pads before getting back to the huddle.

It was all of those little things, those intangibles, that made McCown such a valuable pickup before the start of the regular season. And for McCown, the chance to be a part of a team that turned things around when times looked bleak was an absolute joy.

"I've chased this my whole career," McCown said. "I've been in moments like we were five weeks ago, when you're coming home on a plane ride from Miami (on December 1) and you feel like all is lost, and this is a dark place. Then you talk and ask if we can win all of these games and get in. I've been in those moments a few times in my career and didn't get it done.

"What an honor it was to be in that group and watch (head coach) Doug (Pederson) lead this team, watch the veterans in the locker room lead this team, watch Carson play the way he did down the stretch. That's special. More than anything, it solidifies in all of those moments when I thought if the belief in the group can rise to a certain level, we can run the table. We did that and we got in. This year has been nothing short of special for me. I've really enjoyed it and have learned so much from so many people. I'm thankful to be a part of it."

Will reaching the playoffs entice McCown to return for an 18th NFL season? It's too early to tell, as the pain – both physical and emotional – from Sunday's loss is still present.

"I haven't made any decisions yet," McCown said. "I'll get with my family and talk with them. I retired once, so I know how to do that. We'll just see. I don't know yet."

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