PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles' next game could be against Carolina.
But it won't be next weekend.
The Panthers are among the teams the Eagles will face next season. They lost the opportunity to play Carolina in this season's divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday night, when their bid to earn their first postseason victory since the 2008 season ended with a last-second 26-24 loss to New Orleans in a wild-card game at Lincoln Financial Field.
"It's just disappointing right now," coach Chip Kelly said Saturday. "I think everybody is really disappointed that we're not moving forward."
That disappointment was evident in the locker room and in the parking lots after the game.
Postgame showers couldn't wash away the frustration and anger after they allowed the Saints to win a road playoff game for the first time in franchise history. The Saints, who were 0-5 in playoff games away from the Superdome, used Shayne Graham's 32-yard field goal as time expired to advance to a divisional-round matchup at Seattle on Saturday.
While the Saints rejoiced in the visitors' locker room at the Linc, the Eagles had a tough time containing their emotions over the failure to win a home playoff game since the 2006 season.
The Eagles entered the game as the NFC East champions and had won seven of their last eight games after a 3-5 start. But none of that success mattered Saturday night. Their playoff experience was a one-and-done exit for the third time in as many appearances dating to the 2009 season.
"I thought we were hot," running back LeSean McCoy said. "Obviously, we weren't."
There were times when it appeared as if the Eagles would win. They overcame a plethora of mistakes and breakdowns to take a 24-23 lead on Nick Foles' 3-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Zach Ertz with 4 minutes, 54 seconds left in regulation.
Nearly 70,000 fans were screaming while waving team-issued white rally towels.
A few minutes later, they were using those towels to wipe away tears and then tossing them into the slushy puddles in the parking lots outside the stadium.
"This doesn't feel good," Foles said. "We wanted to keep playing, and it hurts. But I'm proud of my teammates, and I was proud of the crowd (Saturday night). They were great and did an awesome job. I'm proud of the city of Philadelphia for this season. They were behind us the whole year."
Offense, defense and special teams contributed to the loss.
McCoy, the league's top rusher during the regular season, couldn't get rolling against the Saints. He rushed for 77 yards on 21 carries (3.7 yards per carry). Foles threw two touchdown passes with no turnovers but absorbed an 11-yard sack instead of throwing the ball away, a play that contributed to place-kicker Alex Henery's miss on a 48-yard field goal.
"It was a bad decision by me," Foles said. "I should have thrown the ball away."
The Eagles' defense got off to an encouraging start by forcing Saints quarterback Drew Brees to throw a pair of first-half pass that cornerback Bradley Fletcher and linebacker DeMeco Ryans intercepted. But they gave up 185 rushing yards to a Saints team not known for running the ball and couldn't get off the field when it mattered most.
One stop at the end of the game would have been enough for the Eagles to stay alive in the playoffs.
"It is very disappointing," Ryans said. "The game came down to us as a defense making a stop, and we knew it was going to come down to that. That's what the playoffs are all about. The team was counting on us as a defense to rise up, and we didn't do it."
A special-teams gaffe set up the Saints' winning drive. Returner Darren Sproles caught Henery's kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone and broke free on the right sideline. The Eagles' Cary Williams gave chase and was penalized 15 yards for a horse-collar tackle.
As a result, the Saints started the final series on the Eagles' 48-yard line.
"I did what I had to do," Williams said. "I had outside containment and he got outside. At that point, my only thought was to bring him down, prevent a touchdown and give our defense a chance to win the game."
As disappointing and frustrating as the defeat was to the team, however, there also was a feeling of accomplishment in what it had achieved this season.
The Eagles staged quite a turnaround from last season's 4-12 debacle, going 10-6 in the regular season to win their first NFC East title since the 2010 season. Kelly, Foles and other players also provided hope that they will be able to contend again next season.
"There were a lot of high points," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said Saturday. "To see this team come together was a high point. When you make a coaching change, you have to transform to a new culture. These players and the coaching staff just formed an incredible bond, (an) ability to prepare and an ability to win. That can take years, and they did it in six months.
"That is what is so great here. We are all crushed to be eliminated. We are in this because we love it so much, but I have no doubt that we will be back and that we are more confident than ever now that we know what we can accomplish."
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