Andy Reid is never going to be happy after getting beaten, but his reactions to Sunday's 16-14 loss to the Steelers are about as close as he will ever come to that.
You can't blame him. Just two weeks ago, he had to stand up on Monday morning and try to explain the debacle against the Arizona Cardinals. At that time, having watched his team completely implode, Reid was probably questioning whether the Eagles could really contend this season. Not out loud, but questioning nonetheless.
In the two games since, the Eagles pulled out another late comeback win, against the Giants, and then lost a coin flip game to Pittsburgh on a day in which the Steelers really had everything pointing in their favor.
Entering the game with a 1-2 record and in danger of having Baltimore build an impressive division lead, the Steelers needed the game much more than the Eagles. They were playing at home, where they had won 16 of their previous 20 games. And they were coming off a bye week, with plenty of time to rest and prepare.
It wasn't a certain win for the Steelers - obviously, as it turned out - but it was a game in which they had the advantages. It was also a game that could get ugly if the Eagles played as poorly as they did against the Cardinals. In that regard, losing on a game-ending field goal wasn't a great outcome for the Eagles, but it was far from the worst one.
"You surely don't feel good about a loss, but what you do is you're real with it. There are a lot of good things that you can take out of this football game," Reid said. "The errors that we had are fundamental errors that we can go back and correct. So, from that standpoint, it's a bit different than the Arizona game where I thought [in] all three phases, we didn't play well. . . . So, this is a little bit different than that."
Despite the fundamental issues - and giving the football to the other guy is as fundamental as it gets - the Eagles are still in position, if they win at home Sunday against the 1-3 Lions, to have a 4-2 record at the bye. Reid would never say so, but if you offered him that record before the season began, he would have taken it.
The idea isn't to go undefeated. The idea is to win enough games to get good playoff positioning and to be playing your best football when December gives way to January. A 4-2 record would mean that the disasters of 2011 won't be repeated. There may be other disasters, but dragging around a 3-6 record or a 4-8 record won't be among them.
The Eagles are still shaky in a couple of key areas. Reid promises that will be cleaned up. They are not explosive in the passing game, and are not playing with their usual swagger in the pass defense game. It's hard to believe that the Eagles defense is 28th in the league in sacks per pass play, since that is the measure by which line coach Jim Washburn operates.
Opposing teams are choosing to load up their protection packages to stop the defensive line. That limits the number of receivers available, but if the schemes are any indication, opponents are far more worried about the pressure than about the coverage. It either indicates a lack of respect for the Eagles secondary or an overwhelming respect for the defensive line. Or both.
"You've got to look at the protections. They're honoring your defensive line by giving you what I consider blitz protections," Reid said. "If they're keeping people in to protect and running three-man routes, you've got to take care of that on the back end. But the scoring is down. That's a positive you take out of this. Last year the scoring was up . . . [but] we had a lot of sacks."
Last season, opponents averaged 20.5 points per game. This season, it is 19.8. That's slicing the baloney pretty thin as an improvement, but if Reid sees a positive the day after a loss, then it must be a positive.
"Listen, when you're playing good football teams, you're going to trade punches. Against good football teams, you're going to have a minimum of [big] plays," Reid said. "You surely can't have mistakes on your side. You've got to get rid of those."
That question won't go away. Will Michael Vick keeping turning over the football and forcing every win to be earned on degree of difficulty? Maybe it will help to play the Lions, who have the fewest takeaways in the conference. Or, maybe it doesn't matter who they play.
"Really, we haven't been stopped as much as we're stopping ourselves," Reid said. "I'm not saying that in an arrogant way. I'm giving you what is real. So, take care of yourself first and make sure you get it right and then we go from there."
He wasn't entirely happy, not on the day after a loss. That's never going to change. But Andy Reid has felt much worse about his team, and not that long ago. Like two weeks ago.