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Despite disappointments, Eagles have much to be thankful for

After the way the team collapsed in Andy Reid's final 2 years, Eagles are lucky to have rebounded so quickly.

Jeremy Maclin had a Pro Bowl-caliber season for the Eagles. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Jeremy Maclin had a Pro Bowl-caliber season for the Eagles. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read moreYONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER


No one who witnessed the Eagles' 12-win meltdown from 2011-12 expected 19 wins in the next 31 games.

No one who saw the excommunication of architects of the team's best years, Andy Reid and Joe Banner, believed the faith could be regained so fast.

No one expected the next two seasons to result in a pilgrimage back to the playoffs.

No one predicted that a rogue college coach and his staff, compiled mostly of collegiate assistants, could so quickly revitalize the region's love for football.

So, be thankful.

It might be hard, on the heels of losses to detested Dallas and laughable Washington, to appreciate what the Eagles have.

It always is easier to consider what they don't have: 50 percent of a defensive backfield; answers at quarterback; a first-round pick who can earn playing time; proof that a gimmicky offense can win meaningful games.

But consider the messes in the Meadowlands, where two charismatic coaches could be out of work in a week. Consider the dysfunction in D.C., where neither the owner nor the coach nor the quarterback deserves the privilege of NFL membership.

A three-game losing streak should not minimize the fact that the Eagles are, startlingly, relevant.

In this season of reflection, Eagles fans should consider themselves lucky.

They are lucky to have head coach Chip Kelly and his crew. Kelly and his offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, blended Kelly's read-option offense with Shurmur's West Coast pedigree and created an attack that, simply, works.

They are lucky to have defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who turned a group of 4-3 defenders into viable 3-4 players. Davis' 4-3 predecessors planned to build the defense around Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox. Instead, all of them have been effective in the 3-4 scheme.

That is thanks in large part to defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro, who made Cox this year's biggest Pro Bowl snub, and Rick Minter, who coached afterthought backup linebackers Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho into competent replacements.

They are lucky to have Dave Fipp, who, given vast resources this offseason, constructed the best special-teams units in the league.

They are luckiest to have offensive-line coach Jeff Stoutland, whose projected starters never played a single game together. Stoutland, as much as anyone on the payroll, got the Birds to 9-3. Injury and suspension forced him to start seven offensive-line combinations in the first 10 games. He had to use three players who had never started a game and one who hadn't started since 2009. All four of those players had, at some point in their careers, gone a full year without taking an NFL snap.

Beyond the coaches, Eagles faithful need to reflect on the toughness of some of the players.

No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin returned from a second knee surgery and compiled Pro Bowl-caliber numbers in the finest of his six NFL seasons.

Left guard Evan Mathis, 33, missed Games 2 through 8 with a knee injury.

Center Jason Kelce missed Games 4 through 7 with a sports hernia and still feels the aftereffects. Kelce will attend his first Pro Bowl next month.

Running back LeSean McCoy took a vicious hit to the head in Game 3 but never missed a start.

Really, for nearly every deficiency on the team, there was a surprising bonus.

Riley Cooper created a new position - $5 million blocking receiver - but second-round slot weapon Jordan Matthews has 59 receptions for 767 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games.

First-round outside linebacker Marcus Smith has no sacks or forced fumbles. Defensive end Vinny Curry, a third-year, part-time player, has nine sacks and four forced fumbles.

In fact, none of the four rookie defenders who made the roster this season made much of an impact . . . but Cox and Kendricks, the Eagles' first two picks in 2012, took huge steps forward. Sometimes young players need time to develop.

The Eagles unwisely released DeSean Jackson . . . but, brilliantly, they traded for hybrid back Darren Sproles, whose eight touchdowns are three more than Jackson has.

There is even some reason to be thankful for poor, overmatched Mark Sanchez. Like most of the Eagles, he suits Kelly's culture - selfless, intelligent, versatile.

But, like cornerback Bradley Fletcher, Sanchez lacks the goods to excel at his position.

Sanchez might not have been the perfect candidate as the No. 2 quarterback, but the Eagles could have done worse. The team is far from perfect, but then, most teams are.

Be honest:

It was a lot farther from perfect two Christmases ago.