AT LEAST Eagles coach Doug Pederson doesn't have to deal with lingering, awkward questions about his players failing to show up for Sunday's game against Washington.

Despite the 27-22 loss, it would be hard to criticize the Eagles for quitting despite their playoff chances being dimmer than they were when the "Q" word was floated after last week's loss at Cincinnati.

The Birds battled to the finish, all the way to the moment when Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan blindsided quarterback Carson Wentz and forced the game-sealing fumble in the final half minute.

Nope, there was no lack of effort. In fact, considering the number of injuries the Eagles played through, it was one of their gutsiest performances of the season.

How many times does a tight end and outside linebacker practice long-snapping on the sideline because the first two specialists have gone down with injury and an important field goal has to be made?

Talk about "next man" being up.

Of course, the problem with all of this is that the Eagles did give maximum effort but still suffered their fourth consecutive loss, raising the true issue everyone has known from the start:

This team just isn't good enough.

All of the good things the Eagles did against Washington re-emphasized many of the flaws.

The worst thing to happen to the Eagles this season was crushing Pittsburgh to start 3-0 and give the early illusion that this team might be more than it was predicted to be.

Their 2-8 record since then has brought reality back with a thud.

No matter how hard the players try, this is still a team with a first-time head coach, a rookie quarterback and holes to fill all over the offense and defense.

The Eagles are who most of us thought they were, but we just happened to lose sight of that for a bit.

In reality, the Eagles are in the same place they were before they lost to Seattle, Green Bay and Cincinnati. The only difference is Pederson now has to find a way to motivate a team without being able to dangle a playoff carrot in front of it. The Eagles know they are going nowhere, but Pederson has to convince them to not pack it in and fall apart in the final three games.

"I think if they just look at (Sunday's) game and really how well they played," Pederson said when asked about keeping a team that has not made the playoffs in three seasons focused for the final three games. "Were there mistakes? Yeah, there were some mistakes.

"There were some costly red-zone turnovers. But the effort, the energy, the fact that with everything that's gone on this season, they were in the game until the end.

"Then having another offseason, having another draft, going through free agency again, bringing in some more competition to help at every spot. I think if they look at that, that's the message, then we're going to be okay."

Umm, here's the problem with that last piece of information: Pederson's theme is fine for players like Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, Jordan Matthews and Fletcher Cox, who are young and part of the rebuilding plan.

Still, several of the "they" who will be on the field Sunday at Baltimore are older players who are likely to be seeing their careers as Eagles winding down. A message of finishing strong to provide a jump start in the rebuilding plan isn't going to have as much impact with them.

You'd like to believe that all of these guys will be professional enough to continue playing hard through 16 games, since they will receive paychecks for 16 games.

Maybe playing the role of spoiler for the Ravens or the rival New York Giants might touch nerves even though that is a high school way of looking at things.

If Pederson has to go down that motivational road, things really have reached a low point.

"I just want our guys to go out and compete and play hard every week," Pederson said. "Spoiler or not, technically, if you look at it, mathematically we're not out of it. But I think if we just go and learn from (Sunday), knowing that they can play this well . . .

"Had we pushed through and won that game (Sunday), what it does for the psyche of the team, what it does for a young quarterback, young players, I think speaks volumes. But the fact that we took it right basically to the last play of the game also speaks volumes to this team.

"A lot of times in this situation you take stress off yourself and you really perform. Sometimes it creates a loose environment. The energy level's high.

"I've been on a couple teams where we've been out of it, but we actually play our best football at the end of the game. For whatever reason, the psyche of it is you go out and you just enjoy playing, playing with your guys. That's kind of going to be the message these next couple of weeks. We still got three left. We're going to get ready for these three."

Five, then four and now three.

@SmallTerp