NOW, WE WILL start to see what kind of leader Doug Pederson will be.

Not that it is ever easy to be a rookie head coach in the NFL, but things tend to be a little smoother when your record is 3-0 or 4-2.

Questions about your qualifications aren't as pointed and it's easier for players to have confidence in the program.

At this point, however, the Eagles are foundering.

After Monday's 27-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the only thing keeping the Birds' faint playoff hopes alive is the math - the kind that says they are not yet officially eliminated but might as well be.

Faced with the task of saving his team's playoff chances over the past two weeks, Pederson could not get the Eagles to rise to the occasion.

A pathetic effort in Seattle was followed up with a disappointing performance against a Green Bay team that had struggled as much as the Eagles.

Now there is doubt. Now there are more questions. Now every coaching mistake Pederson makes takes more precedence.

This is final exam time for Pederson.

The Eagles have five games remaining, including three at Lincoln Financial Field against NFC East rivals who have each already beaten them.

It's going to go one of two ways.

Either the Eagles will show some character and scrap to make the most of what is left of their season, or they will pack it in and free fall down the stretch.

Which way it goes lies at the feet of Pederson. It will be a commentary on how he will go about moving this franchise forward.

"You just find out who is going to put forth the effort," Pederson said, "who's going to sort of man up, as they say, and take pride in their jobs and their profession.

"And that's coaches and players. Teams in our situation right now, even though you are still maybe on the edge of getting to where you want to be at the end of the season, you can kind of go the other way.

"It's not to put any added pressure on anybody, but at the same time, I don't want people to just start tanking it in the last month of the season."

Even though their playoff chances are minimal at best, these final five games should matter to the Eagles.

There is no tangible benefit for the Eagles to lose out. Their first-round pick in the 2017 draft is owed to the Cleveland Browns from the deal that brought in quarterback Carson Wentz.

For the most part, this is a young team - one that is setting the attitude it wants to take into the future.

In the midst of a season, especially one that gets off to a 3-0 start, it's easy to forget that the expectations for the Eagles were not that high.

Only the eternal optimist pegged them to have a winning season - particularly when Wentz was named as the opening-game starter.

A first-time head coach combined with a rookie quarterback is generally not a recipe for success.

But up until the last two weeks, the Eagles had played beyond expectations, and it wasn't by fluke. They had impressive wins over Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Atlanta - three teams that could all make the playoffs and end up division winners.

For Pederson, this season is about laying a foundation. Losing can happen, especially with a young team, but it should never be acceptable.

The agenda should always be about building a culture of winning, and these final five games will help define whether Pederson has done that.

Will it be, as Pederson said, one in which the Eagles "take pride in their jobs and their professions," or will it be one in which they roll over and accept flaming out because that is the easier thing to do?

It's Pederson's job to make sure they walk the correct path.

The Eagles go to Cincinnati on Sunday for a winnable game against a Bengals team that is in disarray. They then get a rematch with Washington at Lincoln Financial Field, travel to an average Baltimore before finishing at home with the Giants and Cowboys.

Anything less than a 3-2 finish would be disastrous, considering the Eagles' position only a few games ago.

When you're setting the tone for a program, there is a big difference between a stretch run that gets you to 9-7 or 8-8 and a collapse that leaves you at 7-9 or 6-10.

"You know, it's my job to make sure that (a collapse) doesn't happen," Pederson said. "And so we continue to communicate and talk with the players. And you find out a lot about your football team in the next month.

"You can continue to go to work every day. You don't back off. You don't lighten up the load. You just keep working. You stay the course. We have a process.

"We all have pride in this and we still want to compete and go out and win football games. That was the message and the challenge to the guys."

How the Eagles respond to that challenge will make a statement about themselves as players and Pederson's ability to lead them.

@SmallTerp