CINCINNATI - Doug Pederson needed an unusually long amount of time before he took the podium. He is typically on the later side when it comes to postgame news conferences, but his extended absence seemed abnormal, except for maybe the fact that the Eagles had just delivered the worst performance of Pederson's first season as coach.
There had been six previous losses, but this felt different. The Eagles were already reeling after two straight defeats essentially knocked them from playoff contention, but Sunday's 32-14 embarrassment at the hands of the spiraling Bengals suggested that Pederson wasn't capable of rallying his troops.
They came out flat, they made countless unforced errors, they played undisciplined football and they lacked spirit. The questioning of one's chutzpah isn't to be taken lightly. And there didn't appear to be many examples of players giving less than full effort. But the Eagles' response to Pederson's challenge last week was to spot Cincinnati 29 points through almost three quarters?
The last time they were as uninspiring Chip Kelly was coach. The Eagles served up a turkey in Detroit last Thanksgiving, and even though they won a few more games, that loss was the beginning of the end for the former coach.
The mind will wander while waiting 20 minutes for a coach to answer questions. And for a moment, there was a thought that Jeffrey Lurie might walk through that door rather than Pederson.
But then the coach emerged and Pederson's predicament was put into proper context. He is only 12 games into his first year. He has had to work with a thin roster constructed mostly by others. He has a rookie as his quarterback. And he has four games left to prove that he can at least point the rescue boats in the right direction.
"We've got some challenges," Pederson said. "I told the guys in the locker room after the game, 'This thing can go one of two ways. And I only know of one way it's going to go and that's up.' "
Pederson had been ridiculed by some for saying the Eagles were steering straight even after they were outclassed by the Seahawks and Packers. He opted to take a big picture view and if his team hadn't surprisingly started 3-0 some might have been willing to accept that rebuilding discourse.
Lurie will likely take the long view. But when he does, he needs to take into account the regression of his team, most notably as it relates to unimaginative play calling and to Carson Wentz. He also needs enough signs that the locker room has Pederson's back.
"I can just go in that locker room right now and talk to each one individually and just look at their faces and just see how they feel, and they're all dejected," Pederson said. "That just tells me enough right there that we're still together."
Now would be a good time to tap into that deep reserve of emotional intelligence, because the Eagles looked neither prepared nor motivated by their coach.
"I don't think nobody's going to quit," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We won't allow each other."
Graham's been around quitting teams. Of course, no one admitted in 2012 that they had stopped playing for the lame duck Andy Reid. And no one confessed in 2015 that they had lost faith in Kelly's methods.
It does give pause to imply that Pederson has squandered the players' confidence. The Eagles are only four games removed from toppling a pretty good Falcons team. But they have now lost seven of their last nine - the last three each progressively worse.
Don't let the last quarter of Sunday's game fool you. The A.J. Green-less Bengals ran up and down the field on Jim Schwartz's defense as long as warranted. They converted seven of their first nine third-down opportunities a week after the Packers were successful on 10 of 14 third downs.
The offense, Pederson's baby, might as well be thrown out with the bathwater. With receiver Jordan Matthews sidelined with an ankle sprain, Wentz was even more shorthanded. The Eagles lack receivers, but at what point does Kelly stop shouldering blame for his destruction of that unit?
Shouldn't Dorial Green-Beckham and Nelson Agholor display some tangible improvement 12 games into the season, or are they simply incapable? Why has tight end Zach Ertz seemingly become pedestrian? And Wentz was never likely to keep up his early pace, but why has he become a turnover machine - 12 total - in the last seven games?
"We've got to take a hard look at it," Pederson said.
They've looked at Wentz sailing passes since his first practice in May and yet the problem persists.
The same could be said of dropped passes - Green Beckham had another sail through his hands. The same could be said of penalties - the Eagles had 10 for 88 yards. The same could be said of personal fouls - they had four.
The Eagles are undisciplined. That is a reflection on the coach.
"Guys are geared up," Pederson said. "We've got to focus in on that because it's something we work on every single week."
And yet, the same mistakes keep happening.
The Eagles didn't pack it in despite the large deficit. Ertz swung his red curtain as he ducked from blocking Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict early in the game, but there didn't appear to be another lack of effort as egregious.
"Nobody gave up until the last whistle was blown," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "That's the fight in us."
But they have to try harder for their coach. Will they go down swinging? Reid's Eagles won their last two in his first season. Pederson's group has four more games to score points. It's too early to call the fight.