LANDOVER, Md. - It is the suddenness of what has happened to the Eagles that is the hardest to believe. Three games ago, they were looking ahead to the postseason, to perhaps playing their way into a first-round playoff bye, to perhaps finishing off one of those seasons that opens at the end like a beautiful flower unfolding.
Doesn't look so much like that now.
Not only aren't the Eagles in control of their own playoff destiny any longer, they face the depressing possibility of ending the season with a meaningless game against the Giants. For the Eagles to have any chance at salvaging a postseason berth, the Dallas Cowboys must lose their final two games, starting Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles will be watching and - if the Cowboys win the game - they will have to get used to watching football on television.
"A couple of weeks ago we were planning on the playoffs and who we might be going to play," running back LeSean McCoy said. "Now we've got to hope and pray that Dallas helps us out."
They need that help because the Eagles couldn't help themselves during their 27-24 loss to the Washington Redskins, the bottom-feeders of the NFC East. They couldn't help themselves from committing two more turnovers, including another Mark Sanchez interception at the worst possible time. They couldn't help themselves from being flagged for 13 penalties, several of which allowed Washington drives to continue. They couldn't help themselves from being exposed again in their defensive backfield as DeSean Jackson, the deep-threat receiver the Eagles didn't need, caught two passes of more than 50 yards, setting up two of Washington's three touchdowns.
They couldn't help themselves and now they need help, maybe help they don't even deserve.
"We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot," center Jason Kelce said. "I don't know the rhyme or the reason and it's tough to pinpoint one thing. But we've lost three straight and that's the only thing to process about it. This game changes just like that."
The consecutive losses to Seattle, Dallas, and Washington weren't the beginning of the discipline problems that have plagued the Eagles - if penalties and turnovers can be attributed to lapses in discipline - but the three games are the ones during which they stopped getting away with them.
Washington isn't a very good team, but the Eagles steadfastly kept the Redskins in the game and then Sanchez threw the interception that set up Washington for the winning drive. Even that doesn't all land on the quarterback. It took poor tackling from Cary Williams on a Pierre Garcon catch, a roughing penalty on Vinny Curry, and an offside penalty to really seal things.
"This one stings bad, worse than a bee sting," linebacker Brandon Graham said. "All we can do is win out and hope for the best. Hopefully, Dallas will lose two. You never know. Some crazy stuff happens around the league."
They're going to need a lot of it to happen. Certainly, the Cowboys can lose to the Colts. In fact, their history suggests Dallas can lose to anyone in December. And maybe Saturday's game means the Redskins are capable of winning another as well in the finale against the Cowboys. But there's no guarantee that the Eagles and Mark Sanchez would go into the Meadowlands and beat the Giants, playing the way they are.
"Us having nine wins with a minus-8 in turnovers, we were on borrowed time playing that type of football," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "If we ran the table with that kind of football, it would have been surprising. That's something we didn't fix. You can't overcome those mistakes. We're a great bad team because of that, a dangerous team, but we kill ourselves."
Kelly and the coaching staff will be the target of deserved criticism if the Eagles miss the playoffs, but it's also true that this team didn't change its personality in the last three games as much as it masked that personality in the first 12 games. They were able to overcome mistakes and some lack of talent with a spate of special-teams and defensive touchdowns that turned around the outcome of at least two games. Take those away and the Eagles are 7-8, which might be a better measure of who they are.
Maybe it's just bad luck that the good fortune ran out too soon, or maybe it is merely the eternal truth that mistakes on the football field are annoying in September but deadly in December.
"You've got to play well at the end of the season," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "You've got to play well."
They didn't and now the truth has found them with a cruel suddenness. Their season might have ended on Saturday, and while other teams might help change that, only one team is to blame for it.