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Kelly's dilemma: Sanchez or Foles?

Whatever he decides, whenever he decides, Chip Kelly will shrug when he makes the announcement. He will either say, "Nick Foles is our starter. Mark Sanchez is our backup. The starter is ready to go, so he's back in there."

Whatever he decides, whenever he decides, Chip Kelly will shrug when he makes the announcement.

He will either say, "Nick Foles is our starter. Mark Sanchez is our backup. The starter is ready to go, so he's back in there."

Or he will say, "We feel like Mark has played well enough to keep the job right now. Having Nick ready if something goes wrong is a great situation to be in."

And then he will shrug, as if saying anything other than that would be silly.

We'll find out soon enough, maybe as soon as Monday, although even if Foles is cleared to return to practice this week, Kelly would be content to let that drama play out for a few more days.

"Let's see how practice goes. The game's not until Saturday." Shrug.

The decision is coming, though, because the timetable for Foles to return from a collarbone fracture has been met. Unless the latest examination shows anything aside from normal recovery, he should be ready to resume work.

So which will it be?

Based on what Sanchez did Sunday night against the Cowboys, fashioning a comeback to get the Eagles back into the mix after a disastrous start, but then failing to follow through, he made a muddled case for staying in the lineup. Asked if he thought he would start Saturday against the Redskins, Sanchez said: "I have no idea."

It wasn't that Sanchez did anything remarkable in the comeback - he rarely does - but that he did enough unremarkable things very well without making the crushing mistakes that have previously defined his career. (He saved those for later.)

Kelly, as he has since Sanchez replaced Foles, designed a passing attack that featured short routes; a lot of crossing patterns and slants and stop routes. Mix that with a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy and don't ask the quarterback to do too much. That has been the pattern, and if Sanchez remains the quarterback, that will have to remain the pattern as long as the season and postseason lasts.

Is that good enough to take a team a long way, however, or would the Eagles be fated to run into the kind of challenge and the kind of opponent that would require more than a merely competent game manager?

The answer is complicated because Foles was just average himself this season - although he played during the worst moments for the offensive line - and because he will have accumulated some rust during his layoff. If Kelly is going to make the switch, it seems logical to do it soon. Getting Foles on the field against either Washington or New York, or both, to gauge his effectiveness just makes sense. It makes more sense than throwing him in cold if Green Bay or Seattle show up on the schedule again.

The answer is even more complicated now because the loss to Dallas means the final two games of the regular season are freighted with peril. A misstep against either the Redskins or Giants might be unlikely, but it could also be fatal.

Coming back from 21-0 to take the lead late in the third quarter was a season highlight in itself for Sanchez. In the four wins he took part in previously, the Eagles had never trailed even once, so his track record in that situation was unknown.

Sanchez got help with the comeback. One score was made possible when Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr gambled on knocking down an out route, and Jeremy Maclin went 72 yards. Another was set up by a Tony Romo fumble that started the Eagles at the Dallas 14-yard line. Nevertheless, Sanchez made the throws he had to; handled the ball safely; and the Eagles came back to lead, 24-21, with less than six minutes left in the third quarter.

But while the defense continued to give away the game on its side of the ball, Sanchez did some giving away, too, throwing a pair of interceptions and taking too many sacks. He threw a pass in which he led Zach Ertz too much, and the ball was deflected from the receiver's diving hand to a Cowboys defender for an interception. That led to a touchdown, but only because the Eagles couldn't prevent another Romo-to-Dez Bryant score.

Then, with desperation truly setting in, Sanchez took more sacks and then tried to bullet a pass over the middle that neglected to take into account the presence of 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker Bruce Carter.

"There's no excuse for missing Ertz or forcing that ball over the middle at the end. I didn't play well enough to win, and that's why we lost," Sanchez said. "I'm better than that."

Unfortunately, the back of his trading card doesn't agree. He has thrown 78 touchdowns and 78 interceptions in his career. A game in which success is balanced by frustration is exactly who he has been.

So, what's a coach to do when it comes time to announce the quarterback decision?

For a team that has more than one problem, the coach is going to choose the guy who doesn't need everything to go right in order to win. Sunday night might have been the last chance for Mark Sanchez to change that reputation. He didn't, however, and you know what that means. Shrug.