Taking The Long Way Home

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl. It doesn't matter how many times you say it or write it, that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

Still, that will be the case when the game is played Feb. 1, and the Eagles, who were good enough to prevent that, didn't finish the job.

They dug a hole, climbed out and then, at the point in the script when Kurt Warner was supposed to throw an interception that Asante Samuel returned for a touchdown to clinch the 32-24 win, their defense stumbled and their offense came up short. Instead, it became a very strange 32-25 loss.

You can pick apart each play, wonder why Rod Hood wasn't called for pass interference, wonder why David Akers developed a case of the shanks at the worst possible time, wonder why the Eagles were suckered by a gadget play to the most dangerous player on the field.

All of that is worth examining, but none of it matters now. Next season will arrive, and it will arrive with Andy Reid as coach and Donovan McNabb as quarterback, and everything will be the same. The snowdrift of disappointment will be a little higher, maybe a lot higher, but the landscape beneath it is unaltered.

Was this a good season? If you get to the league's equivalent of the Final Four, it has to be considered a good season. Twenty-eight other teams would certainly think so.

But, as I said in the column filed after the game, the Eagles might come away from this season more popular with their fans if they had lost the week before to the Giants -- if the game was well-played and they went out with their heads held high. Losing to the Cardinals, on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, doesn't feel that way.

This was an awful loss. It might have been even more painful than the NFC title loss to the Bucs, the final game in the Vet. Time will have to tell that story, though. The story at the moment is that the Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl and the team that should have prevented that came up small when it counted.

It's a little hard to believe, isn't it?