DETROIT - The Eagles completed an unlikely trifecta on Thursday as they lost for the third straight game against a supposedly weak opponent during a stretch that could have been the launching pad for a late-season return to contention.
Ever since beating the Cowboys in overtime on Nov. 8 to climb to 4-4, the Eagles haven't just punted away a great opportunity. They've shanked it into the stands, and now their season lies in irrevocable tatters.
There will be schedule crunching and mathematical wrangling that will argue the fight still isn't over for the Eagles, but at 4-7 and playing terribly in all phases, this thing is done. Chip Kelly's third season will end with fewer wins than the previous two - that much is a certainty - and it will end as a step back for the future of his program.
When you give up 45 points in consecutive weeks to opponents with losing records, and score fewer than 20 each time, that's not just bad. That's a special kind of collapse, the kind that makes organizations think about changing direction. That's where we are now.
"It's not what you want, not the outcome anybody is looking for," Kelly said after the depressing, 45-14 loss to the Lions. "I didn't see this happening. Coming in, I wasn't going: 'Oh, my God, this thing is going to get away from us.' I thought we were going to have a chance to come in here and really compete with a good football team."
Whether the Lions, now 4-7 as well, are a good football team, is debatable. About some of the opponents still to come - starting with the undefeated Patriots in nine days - there isn't any debate. The Eagles would have to win four of their final five games just to end the season with an even record. Standing in the way of that would be, among others, New England, Buffalo, and Arizona, but most importantly, the Eagles themselves are in the way. Their play has become increasingly listless, and they fell out of Thursday's game with such an apparent detachment that it's fair to wonder whether the team has already accepted the season as a failure.
There is no miracle that will heal the line, improve the receivers, steady the quarterbacks, fix the running backs, intensify the pass rush, or seal the downfield area against both the run and the pass. The Eagles on display on Thursday are the Philadelphia Eagles, and they aren't very talented or well-prepared at the moment. They also probably no longer believe.
"We're going to find out who's all-in and who's not," center Jason Kelce said. "It's very upsetting the way the season has gone so far, but it's not over yet. We've still got five games left to get it corrected."
If they had 50 games, it would be difficult to make all the corrections.
Thursday's game took a little while to turn into a disaster, and it became a disaster on both sides of the ball. The Eagles missed a 50-yard field goal on their first possession, but Detroit was forced to punt, and it looked like a pair of average teams that would slug it out artlessly all day. But the Eagles defense couldn't pressure quarterback Matt Stafford, and the Lions would score on their next six possessions, moving out to a 38-7 lead before having to punt again in the final minute of the third quarter.
The loss wasn't just a defensive failing, though. The offense couldn't move the ball under Sanchez, gaining just 227 net yards, and the team went more than 25 minutes through the middle of the game without a single first down. Sanchez didn't have much time to work - he was sacked six times - and wasn't all that accurate when he did. The running game went nowhere for DeMarco Murray, but that is no longer a surprise.
"Look, I mean these games are tough," Sanchez said. "You lose big two weeks in a row, that will really test you mentally, so it came at a good time, I think. We have a few days off, and we'll just try to bounce back."
Bouncing back against the Patriots, the best offense in the league, would be a good trick. The Eagles will show up and give it a try because, as Kelly said, there really isn't an option.
"We have to go play," Kelly said. "I don't think anybody is going to feel sorry for us."
No, but it is beginning to seem, judging by their words and body language, as if the Eagles feel a little sorry for themselves. They could be forgiven for that. This was supposed to be such a good season - everyone said so - and now it is over.
The standings won't agree with that conclusion for a while, but it is true. The Eagles needed to hit the trifecta against the Dolphins, Bucs, and Lions, and it hit back instead. It's not easy to get embarrassed, but the Eagles sure made it look that way.