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Eagles good, but not elite

Loss to Cowboys shows the Birds still have some work to do.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray scores a 1st quarter touchdown
against the Eagles Dec. 14, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field.  (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray scores a 1st quarter touchdown against the Eagles Dec. 14, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more

WITH NICK Foles almost mended and the Eagles deficit at 21 early in the second quarter of last night's 38-27 loss to Dallas, someone in the press box quipped that No. 3 jersey sales will not be brisk this Christmas.

Truth is, the racks in the local sporting goods stores do not reflect the ascension of backups to starter positions, as those seeking Foles jerseys learned last year. But you can buy a Cary Williams jersey if you like, or a Bradley Fletcher jersey, or if you're really a thrill-seeker, how about walking around the malls this week with a No. 11 on your back?

Or a "kick me" sign.

More or less, same thing.

Author of a club-record 107-yard kickoff return just 3 weeks ago, Josh Huff had a game that will mark his career, regardless of which way it is headed. His failure to field an opening kick that bounced first on the Eagles' 15 led to a quick turnover and a quick 7-0 deficit. Later, he was penalized for illegal motion - on a punt. Still later, he dropped a pass in a wide-open field - a play that suggested a rookie still carrying around his early mistakes.

And a team still somewhere in mid-transition from bad to elite.

Ron Hextall got in a little hot water when he said the Flyers were not among their league's elite. Pat Gillick created a stir when he said the Phillies wouldn't contend again until a new U.S. president is well into his first term. On a day in which the Buffalo Bills placed some big doubt about how royal the Green Bay Packers really are, the play of Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys last night suggested that Green Bay's thrashing of the Eagles in mid-November was not quite the awesome achievement it may have seemed at the time.

The Eagles are a good team. They are not elite. They prove this week in and week out, whether they are thrashing teams they are supposed to thrash, duking it out with the other wannabes, or getting exposed by the elites like Seattle and Green Bay.

Their offense is both explosive and erratic. Their defense is a dysfunctional mix of awesome pass rushers and awful defensive backs. Special teams has been their calling card for much of this season, often providing the difference in close wins as well as a few near-misses. It's a razor's edge existence, as Huff's early miscue underlined.

But Huff's jersey is not the only one that will get you Scrooged in the mall this week. Try strolling around in a C. Williams 26 or a Fletcher 24. It is a testament to that relentless pass rush that both men had perhaps their finest games in Dallas on Thanksgiving. But the Cowboys promised adjustments after that 33-10 loss, and for the first 15 minutes of last night's game, Romo operated as if on a leather couch with a joystick in his hand.

After redeeming the opening gift for a 7-0 lead, Dallas ballooned its margin with two long, time-consuming drives, pushing out to a 21-0 lead. Three minutes into the second quarter, Romo had already eclipsed 100 yards passing, and an illegal contact penalty on Williams on a third-and-10 negated a sack and kept the Cowboys' third touchdown drive alive.

Later in the third quarter, Williams was also flagged for interference on Terrance Williams.

Fletcher? Each week he is picked on mercilessly, and for obvious reasons. Dez Bryant could have told him the precise route he was running last night, announced when the ball was in the air, and Fletcher would have still not stopped those three touchdown receptions.

These are the type of plays that led to that lopsided score in Green Bay a month ago, that negated what was truly an impressive effort by that d-line against Seattle a week ago. These are the players that must be replaced by better players if this team, in its second season under Chip Kelly, wants to dream past a playoff appearance or first-round victory.

With two games left, that is again the most this team can hope for, their modest measure of a successful season. Beat the two bums left on the schedule, hope the right teams win and lose to get you into an extra game in January, and then - if your pass rush gets home enough to hide your back end, your special teams make a big play or two and your offense is more exciting and less erratic, you beat one of those teams with as many or more flaws as your own.

And then trudge off to Green Bay or Seattle, take your medicine, and begin the task of finding better help, of making a good team great. There are already a lot of pieces here, some, like Huff, with a nice upside. But the missing ones, so obvious even against teams with as many or more flaws, are glaring.