THE IRRITATING THING is that the mathematics simply won't let you officially write off the 2007 season as done.
By all measures of reasonable logic, we know the Eagles aren't going to make the playoffs.
The Eagles are 5-7 after yesterday's 28-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Like so many step-it-up-situations, the Eagles revealed themselves to be exactly what they are - a mediocre team that isn't good enough to reach the postseason.
Yes, the playoffs are still a remote possibility, but only until there will not be enough games left for any mathematical possibility to exist.
"Very steep," L.J. Smith said of the mountain the Birds must climb to sneak into the NFC playoffs. "This really puts us in a bad position right now."
It's Mt. Everest steep, and this team has shown nothing that would make you believe it's up to the challenge.
Even with mediocrity reigning supreme in the NFC outside of Dallas and Green Bay, it is virtually impossible to imagine the Eagles finding a back door to sneak into the playoffs.
If conventional wisdom is that 9-7 will be good enough for the postseason, the Eagles would have to win their final four games.
Not only has this team only once won consecutive games, their final four are against the Giants, at the one-loss Cowboys, at New Orleans and at home against Buffalo.
The Eagles might not win any more games, much less all four.
"We still have an opportunity," said Brian Westbrook, painting the best picture he can on a bad situation. "Even playing and losing the games we lost, we still have the opportunity.
"I believe we are one game out of the wild card picture, and we still have an opportunity. We have to go out there and fight for these last four games and try to get in a situation so we can make the playoffs."
That's the math talking.
Two weeks ago, the Eagles were talking about having six games left to get things done; last week it was five, now it's four.
Considering how average the playing field is, an 8-8 team might make the NFC playoffs. The likelihood that team could be the Eagles, however, is remote.
The Birds' tiebreak situation is so bad that they would lose virtually every scenario.
"We need a lot of help," Darren Howard said. "First of all, we have to help ourselves. We just have to play good football."
The Eagles have rarely done that, which best explains why their record is what it is after 12 games.
This season started with the loss at Green Bay because Andy Reid and general manager Tom Heckert foolishly thought that anybody could return punts, and it plummeted from there.
There was the sack-happy beating the Giants laid on them in the Meadowlands; the 97-yard, game-winning drive the Chicago Bears engineered with less than 2 minutes on the clock and no time outs; the 21-point prime-time slaughter by the Cowboys, the missed upset of the Patriots.
The loss to Seattle will be remembered for backup quarterback A.J. Feeley again throwing an interception on his first pass of the game, and again killing a potential game-winning drive with a late interception.
As someone who advocated that Feeley start against Seattle to see if he could keep the offense flowing, his throwing four interceptions, three to Seattle middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, showed me all I needed to say that Donovan McNabb should be back in there - at least until the Eagles are officially eliminated and we can get a late-season glimpse at Kevin Kolb.
Still, while Feeley is the easy target, this loss wasn't all about him.
His poor play wasn't responsible for Reid passing up an easy field goal that would have made it a one-point game at the half instead going for it on fourth-and-1 and failing. Sacrificing points that early usually comes back to haunt.
The defense also gave up a 43-yard touchdown pass to Nate Burleson and a 45-yard touchdown run to Maurice Morris.
And Feeley was the one who decided that Westbrook, who averaged 4.4 yards a carry, would only get seven rushes on the Eagles' final eight possessions.
"It's a small margin as far as wins and how you win and lose in the NFL and we're finding that out this year," Brian Dawkins said. "Some of the games we've lost should very easily have gone our way."
But they didn't, and it's been an entire season of missed opportunities.
"We're just killing ourselves," Omar Gaither said. "You don't want to keep saying that week-in and week-out because it's going to be too late."
It is too late. The math is the only thing saying otherwise. *
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