ARLINGTON, Texas - If the Eagles were half as smart and professional as the organization thinks it is, the final whistle in the Meadowlands on Saturday would also have marked the end of business as usual for them in the 2011 season.

A few minutes still remained in the first quarter in Cowboys Stadium, with the Eagles leading Dallas, 7-0, when the serial embarrassment of Mark Sanchez finally came to a thudding close in the swamplands of New Jersey.

By virtue of the Giants' win over the Jets, the Eagles were eliminated from the playoffs. They had come into Saturday's game needing four specific outcomes in the two remaining weeks in order to back-door into the postseason with an 8-8 record.

They got snake eyes on the very first one, and aside from saving face - as if that is still possible this season - the 20-7 win over the Cowboys that followed meant nothing at all.

Nothing.

Zero.

For one thing, the Cowboys took their foot off the gas.

Their playoff spot comes down to next week's game against the Giants, and would have regardless of the outcome against the Eagles. So when Tony Romo suffered a bruised hand, which wouldn't have kept him out of a game that mattered, he was done for the day. When the Giants closed out the Jets, Dallas also removed running back Felix Jones, letting him rest his sore hamstring and get ready for a game the Cowboys still cared about.

It wasn't exactly a walkover, but the game played out with no discernible buzz. The Eagles went through the motions effectively and the motions were more than enough to stay in front of a Dallas team that removed the firing pin from its offense.

So, yippee. Beat the Redskins next Sunday and the Eagles are equally as bad as they are good, which isn't really news.

What did they get for the benefit of putting rouge on this pocked and pitted season?

Well, it must have been something special, because it was worth watching DeMarcus Ware slam Michael Vick's head into the turf. It was worth watching LeSean McCoy leave the field to have his ankle X-rayed for a possible fracture. And it was worth watching DeSean Jackson barely avoid a head-on defenseless collision on a crossing pattern.

This might not be a pleasant reminder at the moment, but there will be a 2012 season. When it arrives, Vick, McCoy, and Jackson are expected to be the three most important members of the offense.

The Eagles can do nothing to save the 2011 season, but they can still do plenty to screw up the 2012 season.

Vick, who suffered one concussion this year, didn't need to be thrown down by Ware with the back of his head clanging off the turf. McCoy, regardless of whatever personal rushing achievements he might still want, didn't need to be exposed to possible injury, and the same goes for all the Eagles' top skill players.

"Look, the guys wanted to play. They wanted to get out there and compete," coach Andy Reid said. As for the 2012 season, he said, "We're not worried about that."

Well, fine, but it's a little late to be worrying about 2011.

The schedule says you have to play, and that's what you do. But if it is sound logic for a team to sit its starters when a playoff spot has been locked up and the game at hand isn't important, then it is sound logic to do the same when the playoffs are not possible. That the next meaningful game will arrive the following season rather than the following week doesn't change the logic.

The only asterisk could be when the other team is playing for something, but that wasn't the case with the Cowboys on Saturday and it won't be the case with the Redskins next weekend. These became exhibition games thanks to the quarterback stylings of Sanchez, and the Eagles chose to risk their competitive future on them. Brilliant.

It's nothing but ego from a team that is grasping at the appearance of competence when this season has been about the exact opposite. An 8-8 record will look a lot better than what they appeared to be headed for after the loss in Seattle left them at 4-8. But deciding that wins over teams quarterbacked by Matt Moore, Sanchez, Stephen McGee, and Rex Grossman means that the defense has been healed and the future is bright is a dangerous business.

"If you look up all the numbers, we're there," said defensive end Trent Cole. "But you can't just look at the statistics, you have to look at the record."

A team that swore it would not make excuses is now happy to say it just took a while for things to come together. New players, new coaches, new system, no offseason. It is a familiar litany and, if combined with four straight wins at the end and an 8-8 record, the organization will try to spin oy into a positive. Good luck with that.

"The record won't have an asterisk. We have to own up to it," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "We can't look back and think about having this play here and this play there. You have to stop yourself because you can't change it."

No, they can't change the failure of 2011, but they can put a big spike into 2012 if someone vital is injured in the pursuit of cold comfort. The Eagles got away with it Saturday. If they push their luck against the Redskins, that will be the move of a stupid organization. And one that apparently cares a whole lot about how things look.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, and recent columns at www.philly.com/bobford.