ARLINGTON, Texas - After two courses of intensive education in Cowboys Stadium in the space of seven days, the lesson learned by the Eagles is pretty clear.
Not only are the Dallas Cowboys a better team, but they are better by a significant margin. The race to catch up with the Cowboys begins today and unless it is accomplished, the Eagles are going to be sentenced to seasons that end as quickly and painfully as the one that came to a close last night.
If you can't win the division, maybe you can hoist yourself into a wild-card game, but that is a sentence that must be served on the road. Trying to win three postseason games away from home in order to reach the blessed neutral ground of the Super Bowl requires fighting the odds each time and, eventually, coming up short.
The Eagles didn't come up a little short against Dallas, either in the regular-season finale that served as the division championship game or in last night's wild-card round. They were flatly embarrassed, on the field and off. It doesn't help the lingering taste of the losses that the organization can't keep DeSean Jackson from posting inane, and apparently unfounded, boasts on his Twitter account, or prevent video displays of poor hygiene from popping up on its own Web site.
No, it wasn't a proud seven days for the franchise, but there will be plenty of time to reflect on the physical and mental shortcomings that kept the Eagles from making their 11th season under Andy Reid finally the one to remember.
In a way, last night's 34-14 drilling should have been expected, and not just because it was preceded by the 24-0 loss that began the week. The Eagles were a resilient team this season, and explosive at times. But against decent competition, they just weren't all that good.
The season ends with the Eagles having beaten just one team that had a winning record. That was the 9-7 Atlanta Falcons, who were playing the water boy at quarterback that day. Otherwise, they didn't swim well in deeper water.
It wasn't always as bad as the final games against Dallas, but it was bad enough. In their five losses to teams with winning records, the Eagles were outscored 157-75. The offense had its failings, as it did again last night, but the defense is what cost the team those games and, ultimately, the division and the season. (A win against Oakland would have provided the division title, too, but every team has one of those games every season.)
By last night, the defense was on nothing but fumes, and the Eagles got what you would expect from a unit starting two rookies, Jeremiah Trotter, and a cornerback who approaches tackling the way a rabbit approaches a bobcat. The rest of them are beaten up and worn down from the long season, and it showed.
This has been a disaster in the making for a while, and those who point to the departure of Brian Dawkins as the first twig snapping in the forest have a better point than ever. The Eagles never found a free safety upon which they could really rely. The linebackers were a mess all season, starting with the loss of Stewart Bradley in training camp. The guys who could stop the run couldn't cover the receivers, and vice versa.
When the Eagles played good teams with multiple weapons, like the Cowboys, it was relatively easy pickings for the other guys. Last night was another example. Dallas didn't hurt the Eagles with as many runs as in the previous game, but Tony Romo was able to exploit easy slant patterns again and again.
The Cowboys actually didn't play as well last night as they did a few days earlier. Romo was shaky early and Dallas hurt itself with stupid penalties, failing to get a single point out of their first two drives of the game, drives that went as far as the Eagles' 14 yard line and the Eagles' 31.
Given a chance to build on that momentum, the defense couldn't do it, allowing the Cowboys to score on their next five possessions of the half to build a 27-7 lead that essentially put the game out of reach.
They got some bad breaks. Sean Jones barely skidded the nose of the football on the ground before securing what would have been a huge interception. Sheldon Brown was called for a questionable pass interference on a deep ball. A Leonard Weaver fumble gave Dallas a short field for one drive. A Michael Vick fumble gave the Cowboys even better position for another.
Great teams can overcome all that stuff. Even good teams might, but it's not clear if the Eagles even belonged in that category by the end.
The easy answer is to blow it all up, shred the new defensive coordinator, and start from scratch. The most likely answer is that the Eagles will do what they always do under Reid. They'll patch it back together and hope they have the right patches next time.
This time around, there was some bad luck, particularly with injuries, and some bad judgment. It all added up in the end. And by the very end, it added up to 58-14 in the space of seven days. That should get someone's attention.