Halfhearted effort leaves Eagles half-baked again

Posted: December 04, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas - For the Eagles, at least, December's gemstone should be pyrite. The team officially entered the fool's gold portion of its schedule here Sunday night.

Last year, the team won its final four games, saving Andy Reid's job and even sparking some hope for a wild-card berth. Sunday night, in a similarly meaningless game, the Eagles took the field with more life than they've shown in weeks.

Maybe it was the result of the release of defensive end Jason Babin last week. Maybe it was the last vestiges of pride remaining after a brutal seven-game losing streak.

Whatever it was, it barely lasted a half. The Eagles had an actual lead at the end of the first quarter, an unprecedented achievement this season. They led by 17-10 at halftime.

And then it all fell apart. As they are uniquely capable of doing, the Eagles found another way to lose.

They are guaranteed a losing season now. The team will finish worse than it did the year before for the fourth consecutive season.

"I can't stand here and tell you I'm proud," Reid said. "We lost the game. I take it personal."

Mind you, a win over the Dallas Cowboys would have accomplished little in the big picture - other than dropping the Eagles down a spot or two in next year's draft. But it would at least have provided a small gulp of air after two smothering months of losing, misery, and humiliation.

But this Eagles team just isn't capable of competence for an entire game. By the second half, the secondary was back to its halfhearted ways. No one wanted any part of impeding Dez Bryant or Miles Austin on all-too-easy touchdown passes. And with a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter, the defense collapsed completely.

Bryant looked like Fred Astaire, waltzing into the end zone for the go-ahead score. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played the role of Ginger Rogers, backing up as fast as Bryant could lead him.

The Eagles may be better off losing. There's no pretending this away, no kidding themselves that they aren't that bad. They are.

It's all about 2013 and beyond now. And in that sense, there were some good things to take from this game.

The injuries that have sidelined Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy have allowed extended auditions for rookies Nick Foles and Bryce Brown. The release of Babin, whatever its real motivation, has created more playing time for Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.

It is still too early to judge whether Foles can be this team's starting quarterback next year, but he looked incrementally better in this game. He kept plays alive by dodging defenders. He fired a terrific pass to Brent Celek with a blitzing linebacker bearing down on him. He made a perfect throw to Riley Cooper for a third-quarter touchdown after checking out of the called play.

But Foles' best shot at a big play, a bomb to Jeremy Maclin, was poorly thrown. He missed Jason Avant on a two-point conversion attempt. And after having several interceptions dropped last week, he threw a ball right to a defender in the final minutes. It was dropped, too.

"I feel more comfortable," Foles said. "The only way to progress is to play."

Foles' improvement is a compelling argument for keeping him in the starting lineup regardless of Vick's status.

Brown has looked fantastic and then infuriating. He blasts through holes with more speed than his body type suggests is possible. He's aggressive and intuitive and tough to bring down.

But he may be fatally flawed. Brown is reckless in the way he carries the ball, and he fumbled it away at the worst possible time. Brown gave the Cowboys the game-clinching touchdown.

"Until you answer that," Reid said, "the other team is going to be going for the football."

Mistakes. Turnovers. Blown coverages. Lame effort by some of the defensive players. Injuries upon injuries. It has been a brutally ugly season for the Eagles and for their fans.

For a half, it looked as if they might be able to enjoy a win against their primary rivals. For a half, they looked like a competent NFL team.

But there will be no relief for this team until the season is over. This year, even the fool's gold is tarnished.

Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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