ARLINGTON, Texas - The last dying ember of hope for the Eagles was snuffed out when the New York Giants finished beating the Jets Saturday afternoon.
Let's not kid ourselves. The Eagles won't miss the postseason because of that game. Andy Reid's 13th season will end without a Super Bowl because of about 100 things that happened long before Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez got involved.
This is an important distinction to make now, because there will be a lot of people kidding themselves over the next few weeks. That is likely to include people with big offices down at the NovaCare Complex.
This is another wasted year because Reid made Juan Castillo his defensive coordinator, because the team committed itself to an inconsistent and injury-prone quarterback, because Reid and the front office squandered millions on the wrong players while refusing to lock up DeSean Jackson, because of the perennial failure to recognize and address the linebacker position, because of halfhearted play by key players in big games, because of an epidemic of turnovers and bonehead penalties.
This was the worst coaching job of Reid's tenure, by miles. Not only did his self-promoting team underachieve spectacularly, it did so in a year when the rest of the NFC East was pathetic.
The Eagles have won three in a row, including Saturday's 20-7 victory here. The self-kidders will point to that, along with next week's likely win against Washington, as proof that Reid got this team fixed. They will suggest that this strong finish will carry over to next year. They will be wrong.
Take a hard look. Once the Giants won, Dallas coach Jason Garrett pulled running back Felix Jones and his sore hamstring. Quarterback Tony Romo, who bruised his throwing hand on the first series, stayed on the sideline, too. This game didn't mean nearly as much to the Cowboys as being at full-strength for a virtual playoff game against the Giants next Sunday.
There was no pressure on the Eagles. This team had chances to come up big in big games against Seattle and Chicago and Arizona. That's when a two-minute drive like the one that ended the first half here would have meant something.
"I've been around a lot of teams," Michael Vick said, "and I know what it takes to win football games, and I know what type of team and what type of personality and character that you have to have. And we just lacked that early. That's the truth."
But did it take that kind of character and personality to win what ultimately was an exhibition game? This streak started with a win over Matt Moore and a fried Miami team. There was a quality win against the Jets mixed in, but we're not talking about beating New England or Green Bay or New Orleans here.
As for carryover to 2012, forget about it. There's no such thing in the NFL.
Reid will try to sell this as a rebuilding season. That's what he did last year after the team unraveled. Will his bosses, Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner, buy that? If they do, they will be kidding themselves. That's not me talking, either. That's Banner, at least if he meant what he said last March.
"We are trying to win the championship every year," Banner said then. "We went into each of the last few years believing we had . . . a good-enough team to compete. And next year won't be any different. . . . If we don't win it next year, there'll be nobody here making excuses or saying we needed another year to get the team ready to go. We're not setting the bar any lower than going all the way and winning a championship."
"Next year" is over. The Eagles will not be going anywhere. They have settled all too comfortably into that second tier of NFL franchises - capable of good games, of good seasons, of winning a playoff game if things fall right. They are no longer among the elite, which is where Reid had them from 2001 through 2004.
Seven fruitless years have passed since that lone Super Bowl appearance. It will be three seasons in a row without a playoff victory: 11-5 in 2009, 10-6 in 2010, maybe 8-8 in 2011.
"When it came down to it, we just didn't get the job done," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "You can sit up there and try to make all the excuses in the world, but they don't mean anything. At the end of the season, when you look at our final record, when it goes down in the books, it's not going to be asterisked. We've got to own up to it."
That's the only way the Eagles can fix this. Otherwise, they're just kidding themselves. And you.