AT SOME point, the NFC Least is going to stop being the land of perpetual playoff hope.

At some point, the Eagles aren't going to be able to wake up the morning after yet another loss and say, "Hey, we're still only one game out of first place.''

At 3-5, they are running out of chances. Seriously. I mean it. They are. Really.

The 4-4 Cowboys, who are hosting the 1-6 Vikings this week, can't keep slipping on banana peels forever.

So, Sunday's road game against the 3-4 Raiders is a must-win game for the Eagles. And Nick Foles is their must-start quarterback.

Foles practiced for the first time yesterday since suffering a concussion in the loss to the Cowboys 10 days ago. He split practice reps with rookie Matt Barkley.

Tuesday is Coordinator Day at NovaCare, so Chip Kelly wasn't available to address the quarterback situation. When the team's offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, was asked before practice whether Foles is the likely starter Sunday, he said, "I think Chip will visit that.'' Which is coachspeak for, "That's above my pay grade.''

Kelly will address reporters this morning. While it's possible he could keep the Raiders guessing for another day or two, it's more likely he will announce that Foles will be his starter and Barkley will back him up.

If you take away his five turnovers, Barkley didn't play all that badly coming out of the bullpen in relief of Foles and Michael Vick the last 2 weeks. But you can't take away five turnovers.

Despite his horrible, 11-for-29 performance against the Cowboys, Foles gives the Eagles a better chance to win in Oakland than Barkley.

Against a very good defense that is ranked 10th in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed, the Eagles' offense needs to play a clean game. They need to convert third-down opportunities. They need to maximize red-zone chances. And above all else, they need to keep turnovers to a minimum.

Foles' best trait thus far since being drafted by the Eagles in the third round last year has been his ability to avoid turnovers. He's attempted 90 passes this season without an interception. Had just five in 265 attempts last year, which was the fifth-best interception percentage in the league and better than rookie darlings Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Dating back to last season, he's thrown 127 passes without a pick.

Before a 2-for-10, third-down meltdown against the Cowboys, he had completed 12 of 14 third-down passes since replacing the injured Vick. In his last four starts last year after replacing the concussed Vick, he had an 88.7 third-down passer rating.

After Vick initially injured his hamstring in Week 5 against the Giants, Foles stepped in and completed 16 of 25 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than two quarters.

A week later, he was 22-for-31 for 296 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles beat the Bucs.

The Dallas game was the biggest of his young career. Not only would a win have vaulted the Eagles into first place in the NFC East, but a solid performance probably would've earned Foles the starting job for the rest of the season.

But the Eagles didn't beat the Cowboys and Foles had a stinker of a performance before getting knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter.

We all remember the lowlights. Overthrowing a wide-open Brent Celek. Underthrowing a wide-open Jason Avant in the end zone. Not pulling the trigger several other times when he had receivers open. Curiously holding on to the ball rather than throwing it away on the hit that KO'd him.

"I didn't execute like I needed to,'' he said. "I was inaccurate on certain throws I'm very accurate on. Just watching film, there are big plays that I missed.

"I saw the mistakes I made. I did not play well. But one game does not define me and it never will. I'm going to continue to work and get better.

"You want to have a great day every day. But some days you're going to have a bad day. You can't let the bad days get you down, no matter what. I looked at [the Cowboys game] as I want to get better because of this. I don't want it to bring me down. It's going to make me a better person and player.''

Bad days come with the territory for young quarterbacks. Brett Favre threw three interceptions in his sixth start with the Packers. The Hall of Fame selection committee won't hold that against him when he becomes eligible.

Peyton Manning threw 11 interceptions in his first four games with the Colts. General manager Bill Polian never second-guessed his decision to take Manning over Ryan Leaf.

Donovan McNabb was 8-for-21 in his first start with the Eagles, 7-for-17 in his fifth start. Andy Reid didn't consider taking a quarterback in the first round of the draft the following year.

"I still believe in Nick,'' Avant said. "One game doesn't define you. Whether you blow it up and throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns or play badly, it's not going to define you. It's what you do over an extended period of time.

"That's when you begin to learn a person's character and what type of player they are. Then you can make an educated assessment of a player rather than taking one game and saying, 'I knew it. He's not all that.'

"We believe in [Foles]. We've been here every day with him. We've been in training camp with him. We were with him last year. He has the tools to be a really good player. And he's refining those tools and doing everything he can to put himself in position to become the best player he can be. And hopefully, the best player on Sunday.''

Foles wants badly to wash the bad taste of the Cowboys game from his mouth. Kelly needs to give him that opportunity.

"I play quarterback for a reason,'' Foles said. "I want the ball in my hands. I want to be able to make the decision. I want to be able to deliver it. I didn't do it the last game. It was tough to deal with.''


On Twitter: @Pdomo