IN THE NFL, teams are asked to refocus after losing all the time. The Eagles, though, just put the torch to their entire 2014 in one terrible Sunday evening, on national television.
Yeah, they have a game this week at 3-11 Washington. Yeah, they can win Saturday and hope the Colts beat the host Cowboys the next day, bringing the Birds back from the dead. Or that a sinkhole swallows the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers or the Seattle Seahawks over the next few days, causing one of them to have to forfeit their remaining games.
Still. Absent the football equivalent of a last-minute reprieve from the governor, the Eagles blew it - the hundreds of hours of work they've put in since last spring, the 9-3 record with the division lead they took into December. What's left is little better than straw-grasping.
"Everything that we want is still in front of us," nickel corner Brandon Boykin said yesterday, as short-week practice resumed.
Here is the thing: It really isn't, so much. A site called makenflplayoffs.com calculated the Eagles' playoff odds at 86.5 percent before they played Seattle, 69.7 percent after the Seattle loss. Yesterday the same site had them down to 35.1 percent.
What's in front of them is a pair of games, this week at Washington, then Dec. 28 at the Giants, and even if they win them, unless something improbable happens, on Dec. 29 they'll be stuffing their locker contents into 30-gallon bags and talking about how they became the third 11-5 team in NFL history to miss the playoffs, after the 1985 Broncos and the 2008 Patriots. It happened so fast, it almost seems they haven't had time to process it yet.
"Just go on to the next week. I don't know what else to say," corner Bradley Fletcher said yesterday, when asked what the past few days have been like for him, as the focal point of fan outrage, after being torched for three Dez Bryant touchdowns. Fletcher's face was smiling, but his scratchy voice was not. "Time to go make some plays . . . I'm just worried about what's going on in the white lines. Anything else, I don't have time for it right now . . . We have another opportunity, another game, and that's all we're looking forward to right now."
Tight end Brent Celek said resets like this one are "not exactly easy, but you've got to do it."
"We're focused on just Washington right now," Celek said. "If we don't do what we're supposed to do this week, nothing else really matters. I think overall, we all understand what's got to go on. But you start talking about that and you're not focused on what you need to do."
"It [stinks]," outside linebacker Brandon Graham said. "But at the end of the day, we've still got a chance. If we keep dwelling on it, we might blow the last two . . . I see the energy, and I think the energy is very high right now."
Left guard Evan Mathis was asked if the enormity of Sunday night's consequences made it harder to let go of the loss.
"It's something you have to block out," Mathis said. "It's something you have to get over. I think we've done a good job of being able to block out things like that, and moving forward, staying focused on a one-game season."
Reporters were still focused on how an Eagles defense that held the Cowboys to 10 points on Thanksgiving gave up 38 to them at home Sunday night.
"No, I did not," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said, when asked if he considered pulling Fletcher. "I believe in our guys. I believe in the players we have out there. If you look at the plays he got beat on, he didn't make the play at the ball [but otherwise played the proper technique].
"The first one he got a bad start, he looked back too early. There are different reasons for every one of them. But no, I did not. At the end of the game, I switched, put Cary [Williams on Bryant] but I didn't take [Fletcher] out of the game.
"We've come a long way," Davis continued, "it's been a long season, there's been ups and downs, and part of it is hanging together as a team and fighting through slumps. Every player has slumps and runs where they're really playing well, and I think part of being a team - there's only four corners that are active at the time, Nolan [Carroll]'s got a big role in the dime and [Boykin]'s got a big role in nickel, and once you start making those changes, it trickles out there.
"If he was completely busting coverages and getting beat and turned around [it would be time to make a move], but it wasn't the case. There were some damn good throws being made on him. Yeah, there were three of them, and that's a lot. That's why I made the switch to match up the others, but I have faith in Fletch, even though he didn't have a good day."
Davis said he had double coverage on Bryant "almost half the snaps," and noted that the Cowboys were killing the Eagles early with tight end Jason Witten.
"You can't do it all on the same call," he said. "You have to choose where you're giving help to, whether it's help to the rush, pressure on the quarterback, or it's help on doubling a receiver or bracketing a receiver. Give Romo credit . . . when [Bryant] was doubled, he went to his other receivers. When we had the help or the pressure somewhere else, he went out to Dez."
Like Chip Kelly the day before, Davis said Romo was the difference between the Eagles' blowout win on Thanksgiving and Sunday's devastating defeat.
"The throws on Thanksgiving were underthrown and bad," Davis said. "We were coming back and making plays. The throws the other night were on the money. They were right where they need to be."
Fletcher said that after watching film of the Dallas game, "I've just got to play the ball better. That's the only thing I can think of. Gotta play the ball better in the air."