Their playoff hopes gone, a commitment to playing a physically demanding game at a mentally challenging time of the season became the focus for the Eagles on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Lots of people wanted to see if they could do it after a highly questionable effort during an unseemly loss at Cincinnati seven days earlier.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie and head coach Doug Pederson stood in the front of that line and they were undoubtedly backed by some players and a stadium filled with disgruntled fans who now know they'll witness a 56th straight season without an NFL title.
The effort, as it turned out, was honest and intense.
The result, however, remained the same.
"This team responded," a bleary-eyed Pederson said after Washington's 27-22 victory left the Eagles with their eighth loss in their last 10 games. "This team did an outstanding job today. We fought all the way to the end. This is a resilient group. I'm just honored to be leading those guys."
That sounds as if the coach was handing out the equivalent of a participation trophy with his praise, but this really was a day when the Eagles had to endure quite a bit of adversity and still managed to keep things interesting against a team fighting for its playoff life.
Before kickoff, they found out that they'd be without guard Brandon Brooks for the second time in three weeks because of a pregame illness. That sent an already suspect offensive line into shuffle mode and it would be shuffled again before the chilly afternoon was over.
The Eagles also used three long snappers, lost two running backs to injury, had a punt return nullified by a penalty and came away without any points on a drive that reached the Washington 3-yard line.
No sympathy cards will be sent to the NovaCare Complex Monday morning, but the owner should be satisfied that his players are still willing to play for his head coach, a problem Lurie rectified last December by firing Chip Kelly.
Tight end Zach Ertz, charged with passing on an opportunity to block a Bengals defender in Cincinnati, set the tone in the effort department against Washington, but he also made another monumental mistake. Quarterback Carson Wentz's first pass of the day went to Ertz and the fourth-year tight end turned up field and carried a Washington defender for some extra yards after the catch.
"I don't know if my teammates felt like I let them down by any means, but I wanted to prove to them that I wasn't going to ever let them down again," Ertz said. "Obviously there was a lot of outside noise. I was just kind of focused on being the best teammate I could be, being physical . . . after the catch and being physical in the run game."
Ertz finished with 10 catches for 112 yards, both of which were season highs.
"I'm sure [the criticism] probably affected him personally," Pederson said. "He wanted to sort of redeem [himself] and get back out on the field and do what he can do."
He did a lot, but it was not enough. In addition to his 10 catches, he also was tagged with a penalty for blocking in the back that nullified a 72-yard punt return by Darren Sproles. That would have given the Eagles a 20-7 lead. Instead, they failed to score and Washington took the lead on its next possession when quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with DeSean Jackson on an 80-yard touchdown pass.
"I was trying to block the guy and the guy kind of just stopped in front of me and my momentum carried me into the back of him," Ertz said. "I felt terrible about it."
The Eagles, in general, felt terrible after this one. For the third time this season they let a fourth-quarter lead slip away. Wentz, who rebounded from his worst game of the season in Cincinnati to play one of his best, led the Eagles from their own 25-yard line to the Washington 14 on the team's final offensive possession.
The Eagles' bid for a comeback fell short, however, when defensive end Ryan Kerrigan bulled his way past Matt Tobin - No. 4 on the Eagles' depth chart at right tackle - and sacked Wentz, forcing a fumble that Washington recovered with just 12 seconds remaining.
The Eagles had played hard and still lost, which is also an indication that this 5-8 team is still way short in the talent department.
"We're going to coach the guys that we have," Pederson said. "We're excited to do that, obviously. They work extremely hard. We'll worry about those things in the offseason when we evaluate and get ready for next year."
On Sunday, the Eagles' players got high marks for effort and another loss in the standings. It doesn't make it any easier that the defeat benefited the Cleveland Browns more than themselves.