Ford: Five to play, but Eagles coach Doug Pederson looks beyond

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Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.

It didn't take long - the time between the end of Monday's loss to Green Bay and when Doug Pederson arrived at the podium to explain it - for the rookie head coach to switch perceptibly from the present tense to the future tense when talking about his team.

"Are we there yet? No. Are we heading in the right direction? Yes," Pederson said. "Again, it may not show up right now in wins and losses, but I see that potential."

The assertion that the Eagles, while not good enough to contend at the moment, are creating the foundation of a much better team might turn out to be correct. They have the quarterback the organization believes it can build around and they have . . . well, did we mention the quarterback?

Still, contending teams have been constructed before on nothing more than a great, young quarterback, smart draft picks and signings, and a lot of patience. The Eagles could pull that off, too, but there will be a lot more future tense being conjugated until then.

For the purpose of this season, the Eagles are finished, and deserve to be. The hope of making the postseason, buoyed by their unexpected 3-0 start, was extinguished against the Packers. If they won their final five games, sure, they could get in, but having gone 1-4 in their previous five leads to the inescapable conclusion they are a lot closer to being that team than to one that could hitch up its drawers and run the table. You can still focus on the present if you like, but the head coach isn't doing so any longer.

Being beaten soundly at home by Green Bay, which came in with a four-game losing streak and allowing an average of 32 points in its road games, was the dividing line. The offense was toothless and the defense scattered and porous. The offense's struggles aren't surprising - it didn't replace skill players who were discarded and endured upheaval within the line. The defense doesn't have the same excuses. Twice this season, on the road against Detroit and Dallas, the defense surrendered fourth-quarter leads. Against Green Bay, it simply didn't have the talent to win battles either at the line or in the defensive backfield.

"We didn't do anything to help our team win," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

Pederson has been picked at, with some justification, for various in-game decisions this season - and he also chose the wrong time to let Nelson Agholor meditate on his inner beauty - but the Eagles have played exactly to their talent level, maybe even a little better.

Let's say the NFL schedule computer churned out a different order of games back in April and the team began with a 2-6 record and then won three straight to sit at 5-6. Nobody would be screaming if the coach, aware his defense is spitting the bit, threw a challenge flag to give it a 2-yard better chance to make a stand with a game on the line.

Pederson has made mistakes, and some have been howlers, but he's been trying to win the Kentucky Derby with plow horses, and he got them farther around the track than other coaches might have. That is the takeaway from this season, now that the perspective has moved to a more distant horizon. The coach isn't perfect, but you can't tell if he's a winner because his team isn't yet capable of proving or disproving the theory.

"We're in this business to win games. That's why we're here," Pederson said. "But at the same time, I look at the process. I look at the plan. . . . You build your team through the draft. You pick up a couple good free agents in the offseason. You continue to work. You watch these young kids develop and turn into ballplayers and you see the potential. . . . That's what I see with these guys."

That process, that plan, that work, continues Sunday in Cincinnati. The first season of the new era has been an extremely mixed bag. A good deal of it was sacrificed to get the quarterback, and some more in order to hand out big contracts to "core" players, a few of whom have either underperformed or overdosed. The combination left the roster thin and inexperienced. Pederson says he sees potential there, however.

"The wins and losses, yeah, you've got to look at that," Pederson said. "But what I see on a daily basis in practice, too, with some of the youth that we have, with Carson [Wentz], with a Wendell Smallwood, with a Jalen Mills, we've got pieces. We keep adding to [them] and down the road . . . these games go in our favor and that's what you want."

Down the road. Down that long drive into the future tense. Doug Pederson began to steer there as Monday became Tuesday and the Eagles finally stopped being the team that opened with three straight wins. Now they are a losing bunch hoping to drag themselves through December on brave words and breaks.

That's not usually a winning combination, and they know it. With four months of togetherness since the start of training camp, they know a lot about themselves. For one thing, they know the coach is right. The future isn't here yet.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports