To be an Eagles fan is to be an expert in disappointment, a connoisseur of dashed hopes.

The team has suffered almost every flavor of defeat in Andy Reid's final season. There was the shocking blowout in Arizona, the near-miss in Pittsburgh, the collapse against Detroit, the whipping administered by Atlanta, the failed gut-check in New Orleans.

But this one? This cruel beatdown at the hands of the hated Dallas Cowboys was a rare blend, indeed. In an absolute must-win situation, the Eagles reached out for the faint sweet glimmer of hope, only to have it cruelly snatched away and replaced by the most bitter of defeats.

There was hope in the form of rookie quarterback Nick Foles, who led the team on two third-quarter scoring drives to take a 17-10 lead. There was hope in the sudden competence of a defense that had been AWOL for the previous three-and-a-half games.

And then, in a whiplash 2 minutes, 35 seconds, the Eagles allowed touchdowns in all three phases of the game. A touchdown pass, a punt return, an interception return - a three-punch combination that left the Reid Epoch sprawled on the canvas, waiting for someone to count to 10.

"The way we're losing, we're just giving them away," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "It's tough. It's like we're at the bottom of the barrel right now. That's five straight now. That's pretty rough."

It is mind-boggling. The last time the Eagles lost five in a row, Ray Rhodes was waiting around for his pink slip. That is where Reid is today. Even if this team makes a second-half surge, there's just no way owner Jeffrey Lurie can ask his loyal customers to sit through another round of this misery.

"Last year was pretty rocky," wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "But to be sitting here 3-6 is not what anyone envisioned or planned."

Lurie should have cut the cord last year after Reid's decisions - Juan Castillo, Michael Vick, Nnamdi Asomugha - led directly to a 4-8 start and an 8-8 finish. As it turns out, Lurie didn't do Reid himself any favors by bringing him back for another season.

After last year, Reid supporters and potential new employers could make the case that 2011 was just an off year for an elite coach. After this year, that case is impossible to make. Reid had a full offseason to identify the problems and to fix them and everything is actually worse.

His offense can't score. His defense is terrible. His special teams are awful. He has a locker room full of big-talking, small-playing mercenaries.

To borrow a phrase from the election season, he built this. And it is a total botch.

"Right now," Reid said, "we are what we are. So we have to change that around, and I believe we have the players to do that."

He may still believe that. He may believe Santa will bring the Eagles a wild-card berth. Maybe he will. The rest of the NFC seems to be in the spirit of giving games and playoff positioning away. Even after this latest debacle, the Eagles aren't mathematically dead.

They are just bad. They have proved it week after week after week after week after week, in every way imaginable.

This time, they found an unimaginable way to do it. Three touchdowns, one in each phase, to turn a lead into a loss, to turn sweet hope into the most bitter despair.

Reid's teams used to crush fans' dreams in conference championships, even the Super Bowl. Then it would happen in the first round of the playoffs. Now it's November.

In a way, Reid's Eagles are doing what they've always done - giving fans something to look forward to in January.

Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.