MINNEAPOLIS - In the catacombs of the decaying Metrodome, Chip Kelly was trying to account for a loss that could not be explained or excused, and high on the wall behind him was a reminder of what the Eagles could have cost themselves Sunday.
Above Kelly's right shoulder, as he answered questions about his team's humiliating, 48-30 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, a television showed the Dallas Cowboys playing the Green Bay Packers. That game was still in the first quarter, and for a while, that was some juxtaposition: The Cowboys were building a 23-point halftime lead, so it seemed that at the very moment Kelly was speaking, the Eagles were releasing their grip on first place in the NFC East.
Instead, Tony Romo threw two crippling fourth-quarter interceptions, the Packers rallied for a 37-36 win, and the consequences for the Eagles out of Sunday, out of a terrible outing against a team that had won three games all season, could have been worse. They could have been so much worse.
At 8-6, the Eagles still lead their division by a game. They can clinch a playoff berth next week if they beat the Chicago Bears and the Cowboys lose to the hapless Washington Redskins. Failing that, the Eagles still can get in if they win their season finale against the Cowboys on Dec. 29. If it's possible for a team to embarrass itself, lose an important game, and still maintain momentum, the Eagles somehow accomplished the feat Sunday.
Nevertheless, the reasons for the loss - the Eagles' sheer incompetence, the disintegration of their defense and their collective composure - remain troubling. This wasn't a succession of bad breaks stealing a victory that the Eagles deserved. This was a collapse that covered every phase of the team, from a defense that couldn't stop a journeyman quarterback in Matt Cassel to Kelly's series of puzzling decisions to quarterback Nick Foles' nullifying a touchdown by throwing an illegal block.
"I thought we had a great week of practice, but we don't make excuses," Kelly said. "We didn't play well enough to win."
Perhaps the oddest part of the Eagles' performance was its passivity, particularly in light of how they thumped the Detroit Lions last week.
After he had set a franchise single-game rushing record with an astonishing display of north-south running, LeSean McCoy carried the football just eight times Sunday. After Kelly had demonstrated that an offense doesn't have to abandon the run to create big plays or stage a stunning comeback, he called pass after pass, even while the game's outcome was still in doubt, leading to three Vikings sacks and several hellacious hits on Foles.
"You can get out there and line up and get a sack when you're throwing the ball on every play," tackle Jason Peters said to reporters.
After his coverage teams had given up two touchdowns against the Lions, Kelly betrayed his fear of Vikings returner Cordarrelle Patterson, implementing the timid strategy of having Alex Henery pooch his kickoffs. On average, the Vikings started each possession on their own 39-yard line - a huge advantage in field position. And after nine consecutive games of allowing 21 or fewer points, the Eagles disintegrated Sunday, committing nine penalties and playing such billowy pass defense that Cassel shredded them for 382 yards.
"When you give up that many points, it's a lot of things," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "We came out flat. Maybe guys got complacent. . . .
"It's always easier to correct things after a loss than after a win. You reevaluate things, check yourself. Everybody has to be extremely disappointed in what happened, but we won [five] in a row. Everything's still in front of us, and this could be just what this team needed to lock back in for these next two weeks."
That is the hope, and the road could have been so much harder for them. It looked as if it would be. Kelly was standing at that podium, talking about sticking together and finishing the season the right way, and on that television behind him, the Eagles' hold on first place and the promise of an easier route to the playoffs appeared to be slipping away.
But that was before the second half began at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Leave it to Tony Romo in December. Leave it to the Dallas Cowboys to save Philadelphia's day.