SEATTLE — This was a playoff preview in at least one sense. By the end of the Eagles' 24-10 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday night, all of the strengths and weaknesses and X's and O's and positional matchups had been rendered more or less moot. What remained were a couple of quarterbacks capable of mitigating all of the game's other variables with their individual play.
The starring role went to Russell Wilson, who spent the evening navigating CenturyLink Field as if it were his own personal playground, single-handedly offsetting the decided advantage the Eagles enjoyed in the trenches. But Carson Wentz had plenty of moments of his own, more than enough to reinforce a lesson that all of us already know: The later it gets in the season, the more a team's fate is tied to its quarterback.
"It's huge," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Teams that are solid on defense like we are, even the most devastating of defenses, it's hard to make plays against someone who is creating plays from the quarterback position."
In that sense, Sunday night might have featured the two NFC teams whom the rest of the playoff field should least like to face.
No doubt, the team that beat the Eagles is a flawed one, in a number of different aspects. The Seahawks offensive line was as bad as advertised, particularly between the tackles, where Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham and a host of other Eagles spent the night pushing guards Luke Joeckel and Ethan Pocic around the field.
(In some cases, literally, including a third-and-7 in the first quarter when Graham used his upper body to shove Joeckel off balance and clear a runway to the quarterback.)
Seattle's secondary was missing a couple of Pro Bowlers in Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, and the absences were conspicuous at times.
Yet Wilson remains a quarterback who by himself eliminates an opposing defense's margin for error, regardless of the teammates who surround him. His biggest play came on a third-and-8 in the fourth quarter when he scrambled up the middle of the field and then, just before getting hit by Corey Graham, flipped a lateral to running back Mike Davis for a 17-yard first down.
There were plenty of others, including a play late in the first quarter, when he bought enough time with his legs to allow Davis to leak out of the backfield and lose Mychal Kendricks in coverage, setting up a 23-yard catch-and-run that set the Seahawks up with a first down on the Eagles' 38-yard-line.
"He was amazing today," Graham said. "He was better than us."
It's a sentiment that the Eagles are used to hearing this season from their opponents as they come to grips with their inability to prevent Wentz from extending plays. Even on a night in which he committed two turnovers and missed connecting on a handful of big plays, Wentz again gave the defensive coordinators he will face in the playoffs plenty to consider. He finished 29 of 45 for 348 yards and reached peak Wentz on a couple of huge throws on a quick 81-yard march down the field in the early minutes of the fourth quarter.
The biggest of those throws was reminiscent of those that Wilson has made his trademark, Wentz weaving his way through traffic in a deteriorating pocket, keeping his eyes downfield, spotting Nelson Agholor getting a couple of steps ahead of his man on the back side of the play, and lofting an easy pass that hit his receiver in stride for a 27-yard touchdown that cut the Eagles' deficit to 17-10 with 12:08 remaining.
In the end, Wentz made more mistakes: a bad overthrow of a wide-open Agholor early in the game, a fumble through the end zone later.
Along with the big things, there were plenty of little ones that went against them.
There was a defensive pass interference on Ronald Darby that put the Seahawks in position to score their first touchdown late in the first quarter.
A holding call on Alshon Jeffery went a long way toward taking four points off the board, coming as it did at the tail end of an 11-yard run by LeGarrette Blount that would have given the Eagles a first down near the Seahawks goal line (instead, they ended up backed up on the 14).
There was a defensive holding call on Patrick Robinson on third-and-1 that extended a Seahawks drive in the third quarter. In the second quarter, Lane Johnson lost his footing while pulling on a third-and-2 run.
Still, this was by no means a bad loss. The Eagles might've been favored, and the Seahawks might've been a shadow of some of their better teams of recent years, but CenturyLink Field in December is not a place where wins should be expected, regardless of what the records say.