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Quarterback Still THE Big-Picture Story

Five games remain in the regular season. A division title, whether you want to hear it or not, remains within reach for an Eagles team that has lost three consecutive games. And the biggest discovery still out there?

The quarterback position, of course.

There is hope that Sam Bradford's left shoulder injury is healed enough for Bradford to return to the lineup Sunday at New England after Bradford has missed two games. The offense, as you know, took a step back in those two games, both losses. Bradford was actually hurt in the third quarter of the game against Miami three weeks ago with the Eagles leading 16-13, so the consequent happenings -- the Eagles have been outscored 97-34 since Bradford has been sidelined with a concussion and the shoulder injury -- are disturbing on many levels.

But his absence has been felt, no question about it. Things were very much starting to come around for Bradford and the offense before he was smushed into the Lincoln Financial Field natural grass. As far back as the loss in Carolina, Bradford showed signs that he had knocked off of the rust accumulated from nearly two full seasons of inactivity while recuperating from back-to-back, season-ending knee injuries while a member of the St. Louis Rams.

Against Carolina, Bradford's numbers weren't anything special -- he was 26-of-46 for 205 yards and an early-game interceptions -- but he wasn't helped by a spate of drops (could have been seven, could have been eight) and Bradford looks really mobile and much more assured in the offensive structure.

At Dallas, fresh off a bye week and feeling his legs again and healed from the bumps and bruises of the first seven games, Bradford was fantastic. He completed 25-of-36 pass attempts for 295 yards and the game-winning overtime touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews.

The Sam Bradford whom the Eagles acquired in a trade with the Rams was starting to get his bearings and his game showed it.

Then came the Miami game and a sizzling start opened a 16-3 advantage in the early goings. Bradford played good, tough football. He took some shots in and out of the pocket, but he moved well and he threw the ball accurately and by the time he was injured Bradford had completed 19-of-25 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown.

His progress was halted by the injury. How quickly he can pick up where he left off remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that Bradford was making progress, that the offense was responding and that the skills he exhibited -- the ability to make any throw, the footwork, the high-football IQ -- were emerging.

And then he got hurt.

Heading into Week 13, we take a look at some of the Patriots' key players that the Eagles will face in New England. View the full gallery here...

It's too early to know for sure if Bradford can play in New England, but there is no question that when he gets healthy he will play. The Eagles need him on the field, not only to give the offense its best chance to make any kind of an NFC East title run but to give Kelly and his coaching staff and the personnel staff and Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and everyone more reps to take the deep evaluation dive.

The quarterback position, Eagles fans, remains a huge question mark. Bradford is here, as you know, with a one-year contract. Mark Sanchez, the No. 2 at the position, is signed through 2016. Thad Lewis is the No. 3 quarterback and has been an NFL journeyman in his career. Stephen Morris is on the practice squad as a developmental prospect.

None of them are what you would consider sure-thing, franchise-type quarterbacks. Can Bradford become that kind of quarterback? What is the significance of these final five regular-season games, not only for the team's postseason chances, but in terms of what it means for Bradford and the quarterback position?

It's too early to look to the future, but the quarterback story has always been front and center this season. The Eagles haven't won a playoff game since the 2008 season when they had Donovan McNabb and quarterback stability. You aren't going to win for a sustained period of time, as we've seen, with Kevin Kolb followed by Michael Vick followed by Nick Foles followed by Mark Sanchez followed by Sam Bradford -- all of whom have had injuries and inconsistencies and generally the kind of uneven quarterback play that mar continuity and disrupt any chances a team has to win in the postseason over a number of years.

What does the team do for 2016 and for the years to follow? Nobody has that answer and, frankly, head coach Chip Kelly has the present on which to focus, not what is ahead in seasons to come.

But it's a question for this franchise and has been since McNabb's game waned and he was traded to Washington following the 2009 campaign. There hasn't been any continual success at the quarterback position for the Eagles since then, and there haven't been any playoff victories.

Bradford needs to get back on the field. He needs to get as many game reps under his belt as possible. You may or may not have completed your own opinion on Bradford, and that's your right, but the team hasn't seen enough. Bradford was just getting into his zone when he was sacked and driven into the ground and injured.

To that moment, it's fair to say, Bradford hadn't performed at a "franchise-quarterback" level, but he was making strides in the right direction. What can Bradford prove in the final month of the season? What does the future hold for him and for the Eagles' quarterback position?

Bradford needs to be back on the field. The Eagles need to win. There is a lot of football remaining in the year, and a lot of important decisions that can be clarified with what happens on the field, the quarterback position first and foremost.

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