Over the cubicle of cornerback Richard Blackmore in the Philadelphia Eagle dressing room hangs a maul with a four-foot handle, all painted in the team's colors, inscribed with the slogan, "Hammer Away."

But Blackmore was the one looking hammered today after the Eagles were beaten, 20-17, by the Atlanta Falcons. A holding call against Blackmore had set up Tim Mazzetti's winning field goal of 37 yards with seven seconds remaining.

The irony was that Blackmore had intercepted Falcon quarterback Steve Bartkowski on that play and appeared to have just about wrapped up a victory for the Eagles.

Instead, the Falcons won their eighth straight game, for an 11-3 record, and clinched at least a wild card spot in the Western Division of the National Football Conference playoffs. The Eagles, already assured of a wild card berth in the Eastern Division, lost their second straight for an 11-3 record. They now are tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East.

Blackmore was asked if he had been guilty of holding wide receiver Wallace Francis on the contriversial play.

"I don't know," he said softly. "He (Francis) was grabbing me, too. I have done the same thing before and it wasn't called on me. He had been pushing me off and so I pushed back."

Did he grab Francis' jersey?

"He grabbed me and I did it, too. Yes, he protested to the official on that play."

Referee Pat Haggerty said the field judge, Bob Lewis, "told me that No. 27 of the defensive team grabbed on the way up, on the way out (on the pass route)."

Haggerty, asked why a penalty flag was thrown so much later after the interception, replied, "The play was back up field; the flag might have taken a while to fall." That comment was heard on the tape recorder of Chich McElrone of the Eagles' publicity department, in the absence of a pool reporter.

Dick Vermeil, coach of the Eagles, said, "I didn't see the play, but the official's always right. Look at what they said about Walter Payton of the Bears fumbling against Atlanta. It's part of the business. It must have been a good call.

"The Falcons whipped our tails by going 99 yards to score in the third quarter (for a 17-14 lead). It forces us to win our next two games in a row to take the division championship."

The Eagles tied at 17 in the fourth quarter on Tony Franklin's 40-yard field goal, and might have gone into the final period with a 21-17 lead if running back Wilbert Montgomery had not dropped a pass. Montgomery was behind the Falcons' secondary at the Atlanta 15 on the third quarter play.

The Falcons scored first, in the opening quarter, on Mazzetti's 26-yard field goal. The Eagles retaliated with a drive that went 74 yards and scored on the first play of the second quarter, on Ron Jaworski's 22-yard pass to wide receiver Harold Carmichael.

The Eagles appeared to have taken command on their next possession, after defensive back Roynell Young intercepted Bartkowski at the Philadelphia 18. Jaworski took the Eagles most of the way, to the Atlanta 31.

Then they went to some trickery. Wide receiver Harold Smith gained 16 yards on an end-around run and reserve running back Louie Giammona threw a halfback option pass to tight end John Spagnola for a touchdown.

But the Falcons cut the Eagles' advantage to 14-10 in that period after linebacker Buddy Curry intercepted Jaworski at the Atlanta 40.

Bartkowski passed 23 yards to wide receiver Alfred Jackson, 24 and 16 to Francis and went to Francis again for a touchdown pass of 11 yards.

The Falcons went ahead, 17-14, for the first time on their 99-yard drive in the third quarter against the No. 1 defense in the league.

The Eagles tied it in the fourth quarter on Franklin's 40-yard kick and the suspense mounted until Blackmore's quick change from the hero to goat.