SO THE FINAL four games of this Eagles season resemble the first four - with a "Twilight Zone" twist. Then, the postgame conversation was about culpable coaches and game-deciding fumbles and the ability of the starting quarterback to take the Philadelphia Eagles to the next level. And it is again.
The twist, of course, is that the quarterback is now a rookie and the next level is now mediocrity. The fumbles call into question whether rookie Bryce Brown is a bruising, fleet-footed find with a magnificent future in the NFL or just another one of those backs destined to bounce from team to team because of a tendency to bounce the football at the most inopportune of times. And the uneven play of the quarterback is both exciting and unnerving, suggesting equal parts find and discard.
This, then, is the story line for the final four games of the 2012 season, now that Andy Reid has officially designated Nick Foles as his starting quarterback, even when Michael Vick clears all his concussion tests, which he might do in time for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay.
"I think where we're at right now in the season, that gives this kid an opportunity to play and finish it up," Reid said Monday, amid the peppering he received after firing defensive-line coach Jim Washburn earlier in the day. "No. 1, I just think he's playing well enough to where I think he can win football games for us, and 2, I think where we sit at this position in the season, I think it's the right thing to do."
Give the Eagles this much: Whether they are cutting Pro Bowlers, firing coordinators and assistants or promoting assistants to become coordinators and hiring former assistants, they have managed to maintain intrigue long past their relevancy.
It's no longer about whether the ship will sink around here.
It's about what piece will break off next.
Gone are the premier running back, the premier receiver, the star-crossed starting quarterback and the single-minded leading pass rusher from a season ago. Gone is the defensive coordinator converted from offensive line coach, an experiment that in retrospect seems a rousing success when compared to the Washburn's wide-nine, or even the production of Juan Castillo's well-regarded successor, Todd Bowles.
In 6 excruciating weeks, Bowles has gone from some people's favorite to be the next Eagles coach to a guy you might not hire to coach the secondary of his alma mater. It's been that bad.
"We had pressure on the quarterback and then we didn't have pressure the second half and the big plays started taking over," Reid said. "We had a couple blown coverages there. Four big drives in the second half and that's including the last one in the second quarter where touchdowns were scored. That's a ridiculous number that you can't have."
(The way things have gone around here, you might want to turn off your phone for the next couple of days, Todd.)
But back to Foles and Brown, two big reasons the next four games are interesting. If not for Brown's three fumbles, the Eagles might be on a two-game winning streak right now, and still talking wild card. If not for Brown's incredible 160-plus-yard performances in those two games, however, the Eagles would not have been in position to win either, and Foles would have been so imperiled we might be talking about Trent Edwards finishing the season.
"There's no excuse," Brown said afterwards, except this one, offered by his coach:
"He was trying to get every stinking yard he possibly could."
You can build with someone like that. Especially someone who won't make excuses.
There is also so much to like about Foles. That arm. The innate ability, which Vick tried to learn, to step out of a sack situation while keeping your eyes downfield. It was astounding also to watch how much quicker Foles released the ball Sunday night than in his first outing against the Cowboys just a few weeks before.
What's not to like? The lapses in judgment, and a tendency to stare directly at the guy he intends to throw it to. In mentioning this during Sunday night's NBC broadcast, Cris Collinsworth said Tom Brady once told him the one place on the field that he won't throw to is where he looked first.
Right now, you can almost guarantee that is where Nick Foles will throw it.
Which is probably why he didn't see Bryce Brown a few feet in front of him on that incomplete two-point conversion pass. And why a few times each game, he throws a pass right into the breadbasket of a defender. Not one that the defender even needs to reach for. Right on the numbers.
And that's alarming. Not as alarming as it would be for a third-year pro, or for a quarterback playing behind an established offensive line. But not something you want to see from him by the start of next season, if in fact this is the start of the Nick Foles era.
So hang in there, any of you who are left. It's not what you had in mind after those first four games, but these last four carry some intrigue.
Are these two the start of something big?
Or just two more adds to that long list of dubious decisions?