PHILADELPHIA — For all those super expectations, all the preseason hype, all the big-name additions, the Philadelphia Eagles are left to ponder all that went wrong.
Despite their late-season surge — a three-game winning streak — the Eagles (7-8) aren't going to the playoffs. That's the reality for this Dream Team.
So before they begin looking ahead to next season, they're thinking about the 'what ifs?' One play could be the difference in several of the losses, especially because the Eagles blew five fourth-quarter leads.
"If we would have gotten into the playoffs, I feel we would have definitely done some damage," quarterback Michael Vick said after Saturday's 20-7 win at Dallas. "It's unfortunate that we didn't and that's the game of football. If you make some mistakes early and you get behind in the count in the win/loss column, you sell yourself short in the end and you're in the position that we are in. We're just happy that we are finishing strong. We have one more game to play and we're going to give it everything we've got."
Vick and his teammates wasted an opportunity to repeat as division champions in a mediocre NFC East that will crown a champion — either the Cowboys or New York Giants — with no more than nine wins.
The Eagles entered Saturday at 6-8 and still had a chance to win the division, but were eliminated when the Giants beat the New York Jets, rendering their game at Dallas meaningless.
"I've watched this team grow as the weeks have went on," Vick said. "The last three or four weeks, we've come together as a team. It's a family environment, a family atmosphere and that translates to winning. That's why you see a different team. I think we are well put together and well fit. We're playing together and that's what it's all about. But it takes time to build that chemistry, build that unity, that togetherness. Doing it now, it's exciting for me and there's not a place that I'd rather be each and every day."
When the Eagles went on a spending spree and brought in Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins, Steve Smith, Ronnie Brown and Vince Young to join a roster that already had a talented core of star players, expectations were elevated to perhaps unrealistic levels.
Even management declared this an all-or-nothing season in which nothing less than a Super Bowl victory would be considered a success. Now the Eagles are looking back and wondering how much they really needed those offseason minicamps and a full training camp.
"We are finishing strong, and are showing the fans and everybody else what the true Eagles could have been, what we could have been doing at the beginning of the season," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "It just took a while to get there. We take that into the offseason and don't look back."
It seemed the Eagles could be headed for major changes when they were 4-8. Fans wanted coach Andy Reid fired and it appeared offensive-line-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator Juan Castillo would lose his job.
But a strong finish could keep this coaching staff together for at least another season. Reid is missing the playoffs for just the fourth time in 13 years, so this is new territory for many of his players.
"This is an unfamiliar feeling, an unfamiliar sight," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "I've never really witnessed this. It's a reality check. Look in the mirror. Everybody has to check themselves. Hopefully, we can finish strong and come back in the offseason or next year, whenever we are all together, and really eliminate all the mistakes we had early on."