WE WERE WRONG about this team at the start of this season.
We were wrong about this team midway through, too.
The Eagles are not a mediocre team. A mediocre team is still likely to win the NFC East.
They are bad. Unofficially, officially, any measurement you choose to use. Of their four victories, not one has come against a team with a current winning record. Their six losses have come via a smorgasbord of meltdowns. Penalties one week. You can't turn the ball over (fill in the blank) times and expect to win the next week. The defense played well; if the offense hadn't played so badly . . .
The offense was "sporadic," but really, the defense just couldn't stop anyone . . .
This was the latest theme, the one offered after Sunday's 45-17 home loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs. These are not the moans of mediocrity. They are the banalities of bad. Chip Kelly's arrival three seasons ago was marked with a precision that, for a short time anyway, seemed to be the wave of the future. But from the time they were an improbable 7-2 last year - due largely to some special-teams pyrotechnics - to now, the Eagles have been a self-combustible cauldron of big plays and big mistakes that have led to more losses than wins.
They are 7-10 since then, 5-10 if you count from after last Thanksgiving to now. That's called a disturbing trend, and despite all their one-for-all rhetoric, the cracks are appearing.
After a home loss to Miami two Sundays ago, Lane Johnson suggested that the frantic offensive pace was a cause for their miscues. Sunday it was the defense's turn, surrendering 521 yards of offense, extending scoring drives by jumping offside, and later, sending 12 men onto the field to defend a third-and-6 and sending Malcolm Jenkins into an on-field fit of rage.
"That hasn't happened in three years," said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. And while that may be true, the rest - missed assignments and tackles, blown coverage - well, those have. It seems impossible, but the Eagles gave up five passing touchdowns and 246 yards without a single interference penalty.
"I didn't see this one coming," Davis said of his suddenly schizophrenic defense. "We didn't do anything well today, starting with coaching."
Jenkins acquitted the coaches somewhat, saying they weren't among the 11 players on the field. But his visible frustration over that penalty and ready admission that some of the Bucs' bigger plays began with avoidable mismatches deviated from that position of solidarity a little.
Later, after Mark Sanchez threw his third and final interception for the Bucs' final touchdown, he engaged Darren Sproles in a heated discussion that continued down the sideline until Jason Peters entered as peacemaker.
Sanchez took blame for the miscommunication after the game and Sproles insisted, stoically, that "We're good now."
Said Peters, "It ain't no separating. We ain't going this way and that way. We all going to stick together and fight this thing out."
Peters also preached about everyone "staying on the same page." It would be a start. Because it has seemed for most of this season that, no matter who was quarterback, who has been running or blocking, or who has been running routes, that everybody has been issued different editions of that damn thing.
When someone asked Peters if the team still believed in the coach, he said rather unconvincingly, "Yeah, sure. He's the coach. There's no quit in us, man. We're going to fight til the end. Whether it's a win or loss."
These were supposed to be home wins, Miami and Tampa Bay. Beat the bad teams, take the lead in the division, slap around hapless Detroit on Thanksgiving, walk into the meat of the schedule against New England, Buffalo and Arizona with some currency.
What no one counted on was that the Eagles were the bad team to be beaten, the kind that beats itself. Sunday, they lost so horrifically that a large majority booed its team for more of the game than it didn't, and left earlier than it had since Ray Rhodes was the coach.
Chip Kelly sounded a lot like that guy after the game, talking about watching film, about going back to work and cleaning up a team that isn't even consistent in what its inconsistencies are.
Earlier this season, he spoke of a play here, a play there, and things are different. Not anymore. Heading down the stretch, his team is once again flat-out bad. Maybe not first-pick overall bad. But the Eagles are trending that way, and it may be the only way Chip Kelly will be able to edit an NFL narrative that has so radically detoured from one of a promised land toward one of an impending plague.