The futility of the Vikings' passing attack in the second half was best demonstrated when they reached a final gasp with 6 1/2 minutes remaining. This was the possession that came after Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook sped 71 yards through a broken field to put his team in front 23-14.

The Vikings had done nothing with four previous possessions in the half, and now they had to move the ball or concede that this season's return to the playoffs was a one-and-done proposition.

Tarvaris Jackson threw a pair of incompletions against Eagles pressure and it was third-and-10 from the Minnesota 25. The Vikings had to hit something here beyond the sticks, and this is where the quarterback went with the ball:

Deep left, with Bobby Wade -- a possession receiver -- running deep against double coverage. And with Bernard Berrian stumbling and giving up on his route, it became Wade against three defenders, pursuing a Jackson pass that was actually a heave in the general direction.

This had been an extremely rabid hometown crowd, but now there were boos for this decisive moment of ineptitude, and then thousands chugged through the aisles and headed into our winter wonderland.

There was a single conclusion to be drawn from Sunday's drama for the Purple zealots who chose to be rational rather than rage-filled over this sound 26-14 defeat:

The Vikings have regained contending status after a bleak decade, and that means the priority for this offseason is more clearly than ever to find a starting quarterback.

He can't be too old, since the Vikings already have one of those in Gus Frerotte, and he must bring talent and confidence, both qualities that Jackson appears to be lacking.

The postmortems on Jackson will focus on his offspeed pitch that was picked off by Asante Samuel, the Eagles' well-paid cornerback, and returned for a touchdown that made it 16-7 in the second quarter.

Actually, Jackson came back from that disaster and put together his best drive -- 64 yards, nine plays to cut the lead to 16-14. He threw twice for completions worth 37 yards.

"Philly didn't blitz as much as we thought they would in the first half," Berrian said. "The second half they came with more pressure. We could've gone downfield more, but we can only do what's called."

No doubt, this was also a complaint heard on the Vikings' postgame call-in shows, but this was braggadocio on Berrian's part and naiveté with the frustrated masses.

You can only do what the quarterback can handle, and once he was blitzed, sacked and fumbled to end the opening possession of the second half, Jackson couldn't handle the basics.

He didn't seem to have a read on where the pressure was coming from, or what receiver was the most likely to be uncovered.

There was a stretch of 13 minutes starting late in the third quarter when Jackson went 1-for-11 for 14 yards. Asked what happened, Jackson said, "I guess we weren't on the same page."

That's true, Tarvaris, and it would be equally accurate to say that Bernie Madoff wasn't on the same page with federal regulations on handling investments.

Jackson's production in his first playoff start was distressingly similar to what was seen from him too often in the 16 starts he made from the final two games of 2006 to the first two games of this season.

He was 15-for-35, and the passing yardage was an anemic 164. His quarterback rating was 45.4 -- and this time that was a number that told all you needed to know about his performance.

Of course, the third-year quarterback wasn't alone in creating this abomination. His receivers gained minimal separation while facing primarily man-to-man coverage. And then there was Adrian Peterson, who proved on the game's first play that the only thing more dangerous than him rushing the ball is him trying to block a pass-rushing opponent.

A scout from a playoff team said near game's end: "It's too bad Peterson is so terrible at picking up a blitz. He's so bad that he can't be on the field when the Vikings are in a throw mode."

It's also too bad the Vikings enter this offseason no closer to having a starting quarterback than Detroit, the first 0-16 team in NFL history.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •