Sielski: Loss reveals Eagles' true nature as rebuilding team

Enough now. Enough with the discussion of prolonged winning streaks and playoff berths and all the possibilities still open to the Eagles over these final five weeks. Enough with the shimmering freshwater pool that was their 3-0 start - a lovely sight that raised everyone's expectations and made it harder to stomach just how much desert this team needed to traverse.

Enough with the illusion that the Eagles were happy to try to sell: that they could have it both ways, that they could compete for the postseason and rebuild at the very same time, that they could rotate callow players into the lineup and love up the ones who couldn't quite cut it and it would all be A-OK.

Enough with all of that. After their 27-13 loss Monday night to the Packers, the Eagles are 5-6, alone in last place in the NFC East. They are winless against their three intradivisional opponents and have a better record than just five of the other 15 teams in the conference. With each successive week, with each injury or coach's decision that makes another starter unavailable, they're revealing how thin their roster was and how far they have yet to go to replenish their talent supply.

They have a rookie head coach in Doug Pederson and a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, and the primary purpose of this season always should have been their development in their respective roles. That mission became easy to abandon in the heady rush of that early success, those three dominant victories over the Browns, the Bears, and the Steelers, but it should be their focus from here until that New Year's Day game against the Dallas Cowboys. They need to learn more about what they have in Pederson and Wentz. They need to learn more about which players ought to have a chance to grow with the two of them, because make no mistake: Neither Pederson nor Wentz is near being a finished product yet, and the longer the season has gone on, the more flaws they've shown.

Some of those flaws are correctable, and it would have been easier for Pederson, Wentz, and the Eagles as an organization to correct them had they maintained a clearer vision of what this season was supposed to be. Were the Eagles starting fresh by trading Sam Bradford and elevating Wentz to the starting quarterback? Were they in some ways a better team - as Pederson suggested during the preseason - by doing so, because Wentz's natural ability would make the offense more dynamic? Were they committed to giving young players such as Halapoulivaati Vaiti and Wendell Smallwood chances to show what they could do? If so, why were they so quick to sign stopgap veterans such as Nigel Bradham and Stephen Tulloch, and why did they conclude so quickly that Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry could help them just so much?

The message has been muddled from the outset, and it stayed that way Monday night, with the decision to de-activate Nelson Agholor against the Packers. There's no candy-coating how much Agholor has struggled this season, and maybe he'll turn out to be just another first-round flameout. But Monday night, against an awful Packers secondary, would have presented the perfect opportunity for Agholor to generate some confidence, make a few positive plays, and perhaps to salvage something of his lost season. If the point of the season for the Eagles is to learn what they have, then either they already have concluded that Agholor isn't part of their future, or they thought they couldn't suit him up in a game that regarded as a must-win. Either way, the decision flew in the face of Pederson's huggy, lovey approach - the approach he had said he would use with Agholor, the approach fit for a team that has to find out what it really has in a second-year skill-position player.

"Look, there's enough pressure to win and to perform in this game," Pederson told reporters last Monday. "It's my job to encourage. It's my job to teach and instruct and get our guys to game day. It's hard enough to win a game. Carson . . . this is the most losses he's had in his career, and we keep talking every week how hard it is to win games in this league. It's all based on how well you prepare during the week.

"I can individually talk to guys and pull guys aside. But at the same time, part of my job is to encourage them, too, and to support them and to get them better. We get paid to teach, because there's a lot of negative out there."

As it turned out, there has been more negative for the Eagles as their season has gone on. That's fine, because 2016 should have been a rite of passage for this team all along, a necessary hardship that could benefit the franchise in the future. It can be that now, without any lingering doubts. Enough with the noise, then. Enough with the talk of five-game winning streaks and a 10-6 finish. Those feel-good thoughts are gone. Enough.

msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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