Birds betrayed by own miscues and Bucs' 62-yard miracle kick
It was a surreal 60 minutes filled with searing autumn heat, a couple of costly turnovers that offered a painful reminder of the Eagles' past, a fourth-quarter time-out for a vomit break (another reminder of the past), and a scintillating comeback that was erased by one incredible swing of Matt Bryant's right foot. Like so many of his teammates, Eagles wide receiver Hank Baskett could not believe the ending.

"I sat on the sidelines for a couple minutes afterward," Baskett said inside the visiting locker room after Bryant's 62-yard field goal as time expired gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a 23-21 victory over the Eagles at Raymond James Stadium. "That's the kind of stuff you only see on TV," Baskett said. "You're not used to something like that coming your way."

Maybe not, but this was the second time in as many weeks and the third time this season that the Eagles lost on the final play of the game. "It was pretty much the same thing as last week," tight end L.J. Smith said. "It just wasn't a 62-yarder. That's ridiculous."

Smith didn't think it was possible. "I'm thinking, 'No way, no way [before Bryant kicked the ball],' " he said. "Once he hit it, I'm shocked and thinking, 'That could not have just happened.' "

It happened and now the Eagles have lost two straight and slipped to 4-3 despite compiling 506 yards of offense yesterday and not allowing an offensive touchdown against the 2-4 Buccaneers. The Eagles fell out of first place in the NFC East behind the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, both of whom are 3-2. Those two will square off tonight. "We felt like we should have won this game, but we felt like that about all of our losses," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said after his unusual afternoon.

McNabb threw three interceptions and three touchdown passes. He also threw up. McNabb was largely responsible for digging a 17-point hole for the Eagles on this excruciatingly hot day.

After rookie Jason Avant fumbled away a scoring opportunity on the Eagles' opening series, McNabb, who had been intercepted just twice in the first six games, threw two interceptions on the Eagles' next three offensive series.

The first interception was harmless, but the second was returned 37 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Ronde Barber. Yes, the same Ronde Barber who ended the Eagles' Super Bowl dreams with an interception return for the final TD in Veterans Stadium history on Jan. 19, 2003.

Barber repeated the feat on the Eagles' first series of the second half, intercepting a McNabb pass intended for Greg Lewis and taking it back 66 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bucs a 17-0 lead with 5 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter. "I tried to put [the second Barber interception] in a position where Greg could catch it and get out of bounds," McNabb said. "Ronde did a great job of reading both interceptions. The first interception was man coverage and he was [covering] Jason Avant and just peeled right off as I was trying to throw outside."

Despite all the turbulence, the quarterback led the Eagles to touchdowns on each of their final three possessions, including one early in the fourth quarter in which he had to call a time-out because he was vomiting at the line of scrimmage.

That, of course, brought back memories of a couple of trips to another Florida city earlier in McNabb's career. He vomited in a game against Jacksonville in 2002 and had a dry coughing spell during the Eagles' Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots in February 2005. Three plays after McNabb lost his lunch, he scrambled to his right and hit Reggie Brown for a 7-yard touchdown that pulled the Eagles to within three points.

The Bucs countered with an 11-play, 48-yard drive that resulted in a 44-yard field goal by Bryant. Thirty of the yards came on a double penalty called against Eagles defensive end Jerome McDougle, who was flagged for a personal-foul face-mask call and unsportsmanlike conduct for kicking the first flag. A sack by McDougle was negated. "That's not smart football right there," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "The first one you can see because he was busting his tail to get to the quarterback. The second one, there is no excuse."

The Eagles still answered that field goal with a touchdown that gave them the lead with just 33 seconds remaining. McNabb dumped a pass to running back Brian Westbrook, who completed his incredible day by making five Tampa Bay defenders miss on his way to a 52-yard touchdown reception. "It was definitely disappointing to go up by a point with 33 seconds left and then let a team get down to the 50 or so and kick a field goal," Westbrook said after accounting for 214 yards on 13 rushes and seven receptions. "We were all excited about our comeback, but we have to find a way to finish games. As an offense, we have to find a way to start games faster."

Trouble for the Eagles on the Bucs' final drive started on the ensuing kickoff. The Eagles' struggling special teams allowed Michael Pittman to take the return from 1 yard deep in the end zone to the 36-yard line. On a second-and-10 play, rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski found Michael Clayton for an 11-yard reception, and the Bucs used their second time-out with 15 seconds remaining. Gradkowski followed with a 9-yard scramble to the Eagles' 44-yard line and the Bucs burned their final time-out.

After an incomplete pass left just four seconds on the clock, Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden sent Bryant onto the field to try a 62-yard field goal. Gruden didn't like his chances. "Well, how many have been made in the history of football?" Gruden said. "Obviously, Matt Bryant gets his own room when we go on the road now - and anything else he wants, too."

The Eagles, meanwhile, got another loss and a bunch of questions to answer as they prepare for a date with Jacksonville before their bye week. "I'm not going to say we need to do soul-searching, but we need to figure out as a team what we need to do to come out firing, to end up firing and, in between, to continue firing," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "That's going to be our challenge. I still like our chances."

Bob Brookover, The Philly Inquirer 23 October 2006