It was a horrible loss, a missed opportunity, a combination of bad play calling by the coaching staff and even worse execution by the players.

And now it's over, but the Eagles' season isn't.

You can analyze the 24-20 loss to the Chicago Bears from now until the Eagles line up again Sunday to play the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field, and a lot of people will.

"Obviously, we are disappointed by the game," coach Andy Reid said at the start of his day-after news conference Monday. "We didn't perform the way we need to on the offensive side, which is my responsibility."

After that, he said blah, blah, blah . . . blah, blah, blah. All stuff we've heard before about responsibility, learning from mistakes, and moving on to the next game.

The good news is there are a lot of reasons to be encouraged by this 2-2 Eagles team, which is at the bottom of the NFC East one quarter of the way through the season.

First of all, the Eagles are in much better shape than they were a year ago. The 2007 Eagles were 1-3 after a 16-3 loss to the New York Giants, and that result was more about getting thoroughly beaten than beating themselves, as they did at Soldier Field on Sunday night.

Second, this Eagles team is far more talented than the one Reid had a year ago.

Finally, this team has an immediate opportunity to erase the memory of Sunday's miserable loss with a victory over a division rival that just knocked off the Cowboys in Dallas.

After four games last year, the Eagles were truly lost on offense. Throw away the fluke game against the Detroit Lions, who defended with the ferocity of the Cowardly Lion, and the Eagles had scored just one touchdown while facing Green Bay, Washington and the Giants.

It's true this Eagles team has had red-zone problems in the last two games against Pittsburgh and Chicago - one score in six trips inside the 20-yard line - but the offense has scored 11 touchdowns, the seventh most in the NFL among teams that have played four games.

The most significant point is the second one. There's every reason to believe that this Eagles team is better than the one a year ago, and that it will get better as the season progresses provided some players get healthier. Health, of course, is critical for every team.

Quarterback Donovan McNabb is clearly better than he was a year ago, when he was still recovering from major knee surgery. In fact, Reid was too protective of McNabb on the Eagles' final failed trip inside the red zone Sunday. A quarterback sneak or a pass should have been called at least once when the Eagles had the ball on the 1-yard line. Let's hope the head coach learned from his mistake.

The other thing Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg should have learned Sunday is that even when Brian Westbrook returns from his ankle injury, there is a place in the offense for Correll Buckhalter, who had just four touches in the Eagles' first two games. Used properly, the combination of Westbrook and Buckhalter can be every bit as good as Dallas' celebrated Marion Barber-Felix Jones combination.

McNabb, in fact, has more than enough weapons to make this an elite offense before the season is over. Rookie DeSean Jackson had some miscues against the Bears, but he's going to make more plays than mistakes. Reggie Brown appeared to be recovered from his hamstring injury and was open often against the Bears. Kevin Curtis should be back from his sports-hernia surgery no later than Week 8, when the Eagles return from their bye week. Jason Avant and Hank Baskett have also proved to be valuable contributors.

Nobody wants to hear this, but the Eagles are also better with a healthy L.J. Smith at tight end than they are without him, and that's not meant as a knock on Brent Celek, who played a solid game against the Bears.

Guard Shawn Andrews' back is a concern, but remember that the Eagles reached the Super Bowl with Artis Hicks starting at guard in 2004. Max Jean-Gilles is at least as good as Hicks and probably better.

The biggest difference between the 2007 and 2008 Eagles is on defense. This team has already created nine turnovers, just 10 fewer than it had all last season. Only the Tennessee Titans, with 12, have more. The Eagles lead the NFL with 17 sacks, and no team has proved it can consistently run against them.

It's true that the Eagles are in an ultra-competitive division, and they can ill afford to lose games like the one they gave away in Chicago. But the Redskins proved earlier that day that the Cowboys are not unbeatable, and the Eagles still have five more NFC East games, starting Sunday with Washington at the Linc.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.