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The Pain Of Reality Faces Eagles

No playoffs. Saturday's loss to Washington ended any postseason hopes, so the Eagles are here at the NovaCare Complex in the final week of the 2015 season preparing to close the year on a positive note.

This is a hollow feeling. The disappointment is extreme. A season that opened with so much anticipation and promise ends on Sunday, with many questions to follow. Until then, the Eagles will prepare as they do, they will work hard and train to beat the New York Giants.

Nothing is meaningless in the NFL. A win on Sunday is the goal for head coach Chip Kelly and his coaching staff and the players, no questions asked. Competitors compete to win games. The greatest of the great reach the NFL level because they prepare for success on the field every time they put on their pads. The Eagles are playing to win on Sunday, and that is a unanimous goal.

But for all of us, deep in the core, there is pain. The players expressed it on Saturday night in the aftermath of the loss to Washington. The sting is deep.

"We had great hopes for this year," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "To be in this position is very painful."

Why are the Eagles 6-9? Too many mistakes in every phase of the game, "self-inflicted wounds" as Kelly and his players have said repeatedly, and the promise of the season has wilted into the sobering final week and a trip to New York with only pride on the line.

"When I look at the roster and I look at every guy in the locker room, we have talent and we have guys that can play," safety Malcolm Jenkins said after Saturday's loss. "But for whatever reason as a cohesive unit, we're not that good. I think that everybody in this organization has a hand in that. We just couldn't figure it out."

It's a team thing, and the Eagles must find a way in the offseason to make the corrections and add to the roster and address the shortcomings. We can have that conversation once this season is over, officially. For now, the specter of Sunday and the finale awaits, as it did 12 months ago.

When you are in this position, for the players and the coaches, there is no choice but to play on, to play to win and to work hard for a bright future.

"I'm always going to be optimistic. The sun is going to come up tomorrow and you have to know that you have the guys in the locker room," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said in the late hours of Saturday night. "After one more game the offseason is coming. There's going to be a lot of things happening in the offseason because those things are just going to happen. We have a bunch of young guys as far as the receivers. Most of our core is only two years in, even going down to the free agent guys we signed.

"Guys have to grow, guys have to grow up, and that starts with me. I have to be the leader of this offense and the receiver that our team and this city needs. I put a lot of that on my shoulders and I'm going to continue to keep these guys going and keep these guys motivated."

Matthews has the right approach. He's been a hard-working, beyond-his-years young man who has had an extremely productive two seasons here. His 145 catches in his first two seasons rank first in team history among Eagles in their first two years, his 1,815 yards rank second and his 14 touchdowns are tied for second. Matthews is going to have many outstanding days ahead of him as an Eagle. He is a piece around whom to build, and his attitude is exactly right. Matthews has overcome an early-season bout of dropped passes to record a career high in receptions and is just 57 yards away from his first 1,000-yard campaign.

These are tough times for the Eagles and for the fans. There is palpable frustration. The Eagles haven't delivered a playoff team in 2015 and the fans' reaction is understandable. There is a lot of work to be done, in due time. The focus for this day, and for the week ahead, is to prepare for a football game and a win on Sunday. That's the way it works in the NFL.

With that, of course, is the sobering reality of no postseason for the second consecutive year.

"Our goal every year is to go into the playoffs, win our division and make a run and get hot at the right time," tight end Zach Ertz said. "Obviously, we didn't do that. I mean, we had so many opportunities this year. It shouldn't have come down to this game in the first place. We had so many opportunities throughout the season to end the division early. I mean, the Falcons, the Dolphins, there are so many games that I can pinpoint where we didn't make enough plays to win the game."

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