When the Eagles finish the schedule against the Washington Redskins on Sunday - and particularly if they finish with a win to avoid the ignominy of a losing season - they will pack their gear and head into the most uncertain offseason of Andy Reid's coaching career.
Before their current three-game win streak, when the team departed Seattle dragging the humiliation of a 4-8 record, it seemed obvious that the organization would have to rethink all aspects of the football operation, starting with the tenure of Reid himself.
Now, it is unclear what to think. The players are happy to grab onto the story line that all their failings earlier in the season have been addressed during a magical coming together in these last three weeks. To listen to them, it has been as simple as eliminating turnovers during the streak (which they actually haven't done) and getting the defense to finally absorb the mystical teachings of Obi-Juan Kenobi (well, if you say so).
"I've watched this team grow as the weeks have went on. The last three or four weeks, we've come together as a team," said quarterback Michael Vick. "It's a family environment, a family atmosphere, and that translates to winning. That's why you see a different team . . . it takes time to build that chemistry, build that unity, that togetherness."
Kind of brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it? Playing either bad or unmotivated teams is a pretty good formula for winning, too, and the Eagles have benefited from that during this late run. It doesn't mean that all of the improvement is a mirage, but Vick and the other players may be seeing some things that aren't really there because otherwise this has been just a wasted, depressing season. And, man, that's a bummer.
What matters much more than their spin is what Reid and the front office really think. The coach might believe the tale of a late breakthrough. He would certainly like to. After all these years, it's still difficult to tell if he buys into his deep repertoire of clichés or just uses them out of habit to keep from actually saying anything.
"I think finishing on a positive, it surely can't hurt you going into the offseason," Reid said.
There is no carryover from one season to the next, though. Momentum doesn't last from January to September and there is enough change in every offseason that the team that finishes isn't the same as the one that follows, anyway.
"It probably doesn't match up," Reid admitted, knowing from his own experience that late-season winning streaks are poor indicators of future success.
As for the front office, owner Jeffrey Lurie and team president Joe Banner have remained in the witness-protection program somewhere in Utah. They didn't stand up to defend the coach when Reid was getting pummeled and they haven't come forward to put a happy face on the recent resurgence. Now that the team has been eliminated from postseason contention, maybe there will be a break in radio silence but it is more likely that the front office's search for perspective will take a while longer.
This season was a cold slap for the entire organization. Reid goofed in thinking he and his coaching staff were brilliant enough to throw the entire roster and the defensive scheme into the air like a deck of cards and catch everything before it hit the ground.
When the bill for that hubris came due, the Eagles lost eight of 11 games in a stretch that was as ugly as any during Reid's term here. There will be a further reckoning and, depending on Lurie's mood and Banner's advice, it could still cost Reid his job.
"We had a bad season," said defensive end Trent Cole, who has been around long enough to see things clearly. "When you have a season like that, changes will be made."
Reid probably survives, if only because the thought of starting over with some hotshot assistant who might turn out to be awful is a very scary option. Other organizations would try to pick off a high-profile sure thing, but that would mean refiguring the balance of power between coach and front office, and they like the way things work right now. Not that they always work particularly well.
Howie Roseman, the wonk general manager, has directed two drafts and both have been mediocre. They probably still lead the league in managing the salary cap, but nobody ever put a calculator in a trophy case. That their handling of DeSean Jackson didn't completely blow up in their faces this season is both amazing and amazingly lucky.
Still, the blame has to go somewhere, and you can bet the ownership and front office are not going to locate it in the mirror. You can also bet the organization isn't totally buying the healing powers of the last three weeks.
If Reid doesn't pay the ultimate price, he goes on double secret probation. His contract ends after 2013 and the team wouldn't carry him as a lame duck, so 2012 is everything - assuming Reid wants to stick around, too.
Every fan could invent the obvious list of changes. Castillo has to be replaced by a real defensive coordinator. The talent level among the linebackers and safeties has to be upgraded immensely. One of the cornerbacks (probably Asante Samuel) has to be trimmed. The offensive line has to get some depth. The offensive scheme has to make better use of LeSean McCoy, to keep Vick upright if nothing else.
That's an awful lot to ask from one offseason, but the reality is that the Eagles - factoring in the weird losses and the meaningless wins - are probably just about a .500 team, no more or less.
They pack up Sunday night and drift into the uncertainty of a new year, knowing that things will never be quite the same again. Of course, after this season, that's not necessarily a bad thing.