The season is a wreck. The question now for the Eagles is how far the rot spreads.
With any realistic hope for a playoff berth gone, does Andy Reid still have the command of his locker room to salvage a reasonable record? Does his collection of young talent and veteran free agents have the pride to do so? The answers may determine whether Reid returns in 2012.
"It's easy when you have a record of 3-6 to go your separate way," tight end Brent Celek said after Sunday's loss. "We need to come together and play for each other, the city, and the organization."
Will they? The clues within the locker room are mixed.
When Sunday's game ended, and Eagles players knew that any plans for a playoff run were likely crushed, Jamaal Jackson sat silently at his locker, disbelief seared on his face. Jackson is the longest tenured Eagle, the last player with any ties to the team's Super Bowl run. Demoted, left to sit on the bench, his disappointment was still obvious as he held his chin in his hands, green pants still on, staring at a locker room missing many of his teammates, the bulk of whom had scattered to the exits rather than face questions about another loss.
Kurt Coleman, the second-year safety, clenched his jaw and struggled to compose himself as he spoke to reporters, with blacking still smudged below his eyes long after the game ended. His missed tackle on Arizona's winning score and his team's shortcomings visibly ate at him.
Cullen Jenkins and Jason Avant, true professionals both, dressed and assessed their team's shortcomings while vowing to fight on.
But the conversation in other areas turned to DeSean Jackson, who missed a meeting and got himself benched a day before a make-or-break game. His antics weren't the first sign of dysfunction. Asante Samuel had weeks earlier ripped the team's front office. Two outbursts might be a coincidence, as the saying goes. A third would establish a pattern.
Reid has survived this long in large part because of how he has handled adversity. His teams are rarely entirely derailed. They almost always compete, and with the exception of one notable wide receiver, his players do not turn on him. Instead, they testify to how much they love their coach. That is a valuable asset, one many teams lack, but it will now be tested. Should a faction of players lie down or revolt over these last seven games, Reid will lose his best argument for remaining.
"We've got a job to do regardless, I don't care if nothing's going right, you can't lose that fighting attitude, you've got to keep on clawing it out," said Jenkins, an eighth year pro who has seen it all: a Super Bowl win, playoff appearances, as well as four and six win disappointments.
"We definitely have to play just for dignity," said Avant, one of Reid's most vocal supporters. In his sixth NFL season, all with the Eagles, Avant has never been part of a losing year. "You have to have pride in what you do as far as the type of player that you want to be, that you want other people to see you as, as far as your effort and energy."
With a young roster, though, many players have never had to grind through the kind of lost season the Eagles are now navigating. Eleven of the 53 players are in their first seasons. Another 15 young Eagles have played every game of their careers under Reid and, following his lead, have never missed the playoffs. No matter what problems they have faced in the past, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Jackson, and others have always had the postseason dangling in front of them as a goal worth fighting for. How will they react without that motivation?
Veterans such as Samuel and Jason Babin have acquired big reputations and matching paychecks with individualistic play. Mike Vick has been a shell of his 2010 self. Another nine players are new to Philadelphia, without any deep ties to Reid or the Eagles. How do they respond with team goals that are now abstract at best?
These answers will come quickly. The Eagles' next two games are against the Giants and Patriots, each 6-3 division leaders. Both games carry the potential for embarrassment.
Reid's team is in this situation because, in the season's first nine games, they have folded in the face of adversity. If that weakness carries into the season's stretch run, if the fight fades from this team, it would represent Reid's biggest loss of all and perhaps prove more costly to him than any fourth-quarter collapse.