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With D-Jax, Birds may still be in picture

In the end, cutting wide receiver proves costly

(Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)
(Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)Read more

LANDOVER, Md. - DeSean Jackson cruising downfield, unimpeded, relishing his vengeance ... that will be the visual epitaph of this lost Eagles season.

Other images frame this central picture.

Jeremy Maclin, still fully dressed in front of his locker 45 minutes after the season's worst loss ...

Marcus Smith, the first-round pick, pulling on his shoes next to the shower entrance, anonymous at the end of a fruitless first season in which his fellow defenders constantly struggled ...

LeSean McCoy, fuming that he had endured another backfield beating because the Birds can't go deep ...

Bradley Fletcher, in street clothes, finally benched and fleeing the scene faster than he ever pursued a receiver ...

Cary Williams, Fletcher's co-starter since last season uniformed, mute but likely free next month to go sconce shopping ...

Jeffrey Lurie, hiding in plain sight at the back of the tiny visitor's locker room ...

Chip Kelly, quietly thunderstruck on a podium, defeated by his own arrogance as he admitted that DeSean Jackson, who he cut, cannot be stopped.

These were the lasting looks after a dumpster fire of a team in D.C. outplayed, outcoached and effectively ousted the prim, glib Eagles from this season's playoff race.

The Eagles then spent yesterday licking their wounds and hoping for luck - Andrew Luck, to be precise.

Some said they would watch Luck and the Colts play the Cowboys. The Eagles needed the Cowboys to lose to Indianapolis, then at Washington, to stay in the playoff picture.

A Cowboys win yesterday would end the Eagles' hopes.

Rookie kicker Cody Parkey, Saturday's goat after two crucial misses in a three-point loss, said he would watch. Center Jason Kelce, the social hub of the team, wasn't sure what his plans were, but, he said, "I understand the ramifications."

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox planned to isolate himself in his home. He is something of a brooder.

Cox cannot compare with nickel corner Brandon Boykin, who couldn't conceive of watching any game passively after actively helping his team lose three straight.

"I don't care about any of that," Boykin said. "We didn't do what we were supposed to do. Whatever happens, happens."

Conner Barwin could not conceive of not watching: "Bleep yeah, I'll watch. I'll be a big Andrew Luck fan."

What about Robert Griffin III? After Saturday's loss, Washington's quarterback controlled the Eagles' fate as much as Indianpolis' QB did.

"Yep," Barwin said. "I hope he plays as well as he did against us."

The same could have been said for Jackson.

The Eagles cut Jackson in part because, according to one report, he rolled with Crips. Well, he crippled the Birds with four catches for 126 yards. He burned Bradley Fletcher deep for 51 and 55 yards, catches that led to Washington touchdowns.

Most dared to witness their own demise. The Cowboys crushed the Colts, 42-7.

When the Eagles watched yesterday, they could lament the three consecutive losses that took them off their high horse atop the NFC East and brought them to their knees beside their couches, praying that Tony Romo's back would hinder him for just two more games.

And they could wonder how much different their own season would have been had their bosses not cut the most dangerous player in franchise history, and smear his name on his way out the door.

Any contention that the Eagles did not plant a story on in March that assassinated Jackson's already dubious character defies logic. The entire premise of the story was that Jackson's tenuous gang ties prompted the Eagles to consider releasing him: this, according to Eagles sources. If the Eagles were the sources, then the Eagles provided the information.

Jackson then was cut within 40 minutes of the story's publication.

Further damning: No one from the Eagles refuted the story's theme.

So, the Eagles created and spun a narrative based on lies and innuendo to minimize blowback from a personnel move that only could be considered insane from any football perspective.

Eagles head coach and self-described personnel chief Chip Kelly eventually insisted that Jackson's professionalism in 2013 was exemplary. This was a pointed refutation of assertions in the story that Jackson missed meetings, was insubordinate and warred with his new coaches.

Jackson went to his third Pro Bowl after he posted or matched career highs in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns. His performance against the Eagles on Saturday gave him his fourth 1,000-yard season, and he missed two games. He leads the league in yards per catch, at 20.1, about 3 yards more than the next receiver with at least 50 catches.

He averages almost twice as many yards per catch as Riley Cooper, whom the Eagles re-signed to replace him.

Jackson has been productive in a poor offense run by three bad quarterbacks on a team managed by a befuddled and flustered first-year coach.

Yesterday, his former teammates could watch the Cowboys and wonder: What are they going to say about me when I get released? Certainly, in 2013 Jackson did himself no favors.

He made this bed with his continued separatist, aloof, arrogant behavior. Fairly or not, Jackson didn't have to associate with suspected criminals. After five seasons of immature indulgence, in the absence of Maclin, who missed the season with a knee injury, Jackson had an opportunity to present himself as a responsible, committed, accountable professional.

Instead, he remained a resentful diva. He ruined his opportunity to make an impression on a coach and a coaching staff with no patience whatsoever for anyone outside of their lockstep.

With Jackson last season, the Eagles set club records for points and yards behind flawed quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles. The previous records include the trio of Jackson, Maclin and McCoy, easily the most lethal combination of weapons in team history and the most dangerous grouping since the Greatest Show on Turf dominated at the turn of the century.

McCoy last week was asked to envision what Kelly's offense might have looked like with Maclin and Jackson in tandem this season.

"A lot of big plays. A lot of space. A lot of yards," he said. "That's what I would think."

There existed a common belief that Maclin would not have forsook free agency and re-signed with the Eagles had Jackson been expected to remain on the team. Maclin's knee injury coincided with his first shot at free agency. He opted to sign a 1-year deal with the Eagles, gambling that he would show the league he was fully recovered in the prime of his career - easier to do, perhaps, without Jackson as competition for catches.

Maclin never actually said he wouldn't have returned if Jackson stayed, but Maclin never denied it, either.

Maclin planned to watch yesterday, too, but he refused to hope.

"I understand what's at stake, but I'll just be watching football," said Maclin, who agreed with Boykin that backing into the playoffs would hardly wash out the taste of December failure. "Yep. That's about as real as it gets."

No one exits this mess blameless.

Kelly and the Eagles' brass could have been more patient with Jackson and less vindictive in their clumsily spun rejection of him.

Jackson could have become more mature and less distant in 2013.

Now, they all had yesterday free to watch the Cowboys win, powerless to affect their own fates.

They have all of January to reap what they sowed.

It is a bitter, useless crop.