PHILADELPHIA — A meaningless regular-season game for the Philadelphia Eagles usually means resting their starters for the playoffs.
Not this year.
The Eagles (7-8) are going home after Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins (5-10). It's the first time since 2007 they didn't make the playoffs and just the fourth time it's happened in coach Andy Reid's 13 seasons.
That doesn't soften the blow.
"Obviously 8-8 wasn't our goal," quarterback Michael Vick said Wednesday. "We expected to be in the playoffs. I think we have to take all the positives we can learn from this season and hopefully we'll come back and look like a different team next year."
As the season winds down, the Eagles are playing their best football. They've won three straight games and have outscored their opponents 91-36 in that span. The problem is they didn't play that well in the beginning. A 1-4 start doomed Philadelphia.
"As coaches and as players, I think you're asked that question you're going to say 'We wanted it to happen Week 1.'" Reid said. "In reality, there were a lot of moving parts and that didn't happen. A lot of that is my responsibility, to make sure that that gets taken care of. There are a lot of things I could have done better with that. The bottom line is they're together now, and they have an opportunity to play a good football team and continue to get better as a unit."
Vick and the rest of the healthy starters will be out there for the final time this season against the Redskins. LeSean McCoy, Jason Peters and Jason Babin get another chance to play in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29.
It's somewhat of a rare sight to see starters playing in the last game. Reid rested his regulars in the finale three times in the previous seven years because the Eagles already had a playoff berth locked up and couldn't affect their seeding with a win.
Considering Minnesota's Adrian Peterson sustained a serious knee injury last week, there was some though that Reid would give his backups more playing time. But he has no plans to treat this as a glorified preseason game.
"When you love the game of football, you always have to play with pride and passion, because you never know which game may be your last," Vick said. "I'll never just sit there and say, 'There's nothing to play for.' That wasn't the mindset I had when I first put on a helmet when I was 7-years-old and it's not my mindset today."
The Eagles, who entered the season with Super Bowl expectations and tons of hype, missed an opportunity to win a mediocre division because of their struggles early in the season.
Five of their first six losses were by 7 points or fewer and they blew a fourth-quarter lead five times. Part of the problem was too many new players and new coaches trying to make adjustments to new schemes. But sloppiness also was a major issue. Poor tackling, failure to execute fundamentals and turnovers were key factors in all their losses.
"I think, maybe it was an adjustment, maybe it was just not having a sense of urgency or unity," defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "You know, there's a lot of things that you can sit there and think about, but we just, for whatever reason, didn't do it early, but we've pulled together. This team has had a lot of resolve and a lot of fight in them and that's good because that's something that you have to have, something you look for."
Still, it's too late to matter this season.