GLENDALE â€” When the Philadelphia Eagles struggled throughout the first half and fell behind big by halftime in the NFC Championship game on Sunday, it was only fitting that they would claw their way back, make a game of it and come within just three minutes of advancing to the Super Bowl.
After all, this was a team that was all but written off by many when it fell to 5-5-1 back in Week 12, only to win four of its final five regular-season games, capture a wild card playoff berth and advance to the conference title game with a win over the defending Super Bowl and NFC champion New York Giants on Jan. 11.
The drama, suspense and the second-half comeback were all there, but on Sunday in Glendale Ariz., the script just didn't play out the same for Coach Andy Reid and the resurgent Eagles, as the Arizona Cardinals scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:53 left in the fourth quarter to pull out a 32-25 win.
Reid, a former Glendale Community College football player, has been a frequent participant in the NFC Championship, having guided the Eagles there five times since his coaching tenure began in 1999.
But Philadelphia has advanced to the next stage just once, losing to the Patriots, 24-21, in Super Bowl XXXIX.
â€œI'm hurting for all the guys [on the team] and they're hurting â€” all of them,â€ Reid told reporters immediately following the game. â€œIt's a shame.
â€œThis year's different than other years, they're all different. We've been over the hump and into the Super Bowl. If this [game] is what you consider the hump, we didn't do it this time.â€
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb passed for three touchdowns in the second half â€” the last of which came on a juggling 62-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a deep route for a 25-24 lead with 8:30 remaining in the game.
Arizona, which hadn't scored since Neil Rackers connected on a 49-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left in the first half for a 24-6 lead, answered with a 14-play, 72-yard drive that ate up 7:52 and put the Cardinals back up, 32-25, on an eight-yard screen pass from Kurt Warner to Tim Hightower.
With under 2:30 to play, the Eagles got a first down at the Cardinals' 47-yard line on a 19-yard pass from McNabb to Brian Westbrook, but turned the ball over on downs following four incomplete passes.
â€œI'm very confident we're going to win the game,â€ Reid said when asked how he had felt about the Eagles' chances after Westbrook's catch that got the Eagles into Arizona territory. â€œI expect us to keep the thing rolling.â€
The Eagles' defense limited Arizona (12-7) to just 13 yards from scrimmage in the third quarter after allowing 255 total yards in the first half, including three touchdown passes from Warner to Larry Fitzgerald.
Philadelphia (11-7-1) came away with field goals on two first-half trips into Arizona territory.
â€œThey did a nice job in the first half there, they played better football than we did,â€ Reid said. â€œWe put ourselves in a kind of bind there, where we had to come back from quite a bit.
â€œAnd, we did it, but you've gotta give them credit for rallying it up and punching in that last touchdown.â€