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More dark days ahead for Eagles

We knew there would be days like this for Philadelphia. And oh yes, there will be more.

Breakups on the bitterness level of the Eagles-T.O. split are difficult. They're a process. They shared some good times together, you know?


Listen, you don't just bury what they had, the way Eagles fans pretended to Monday night by placing a Terrell Owens dummy in a coffin and staging a mock funeral. After the Eagles collapsed in the final minutes against the Cowboys, taking a 13-point lead, gift-wrapping it and presenting Dallas with a 21-20 gift, that Owens doll was about the only thing in Philly resting in peace Monday night. The Eagles' chances at a fifth straight NFC East title, if not the playoffs altogether, all but died shortly after midnight Tuesday.

The Eagles are 0-2 with Owens out serving a suspension for "conduct detrimental," with Donovan McNabb throwing costly interceptions near the end of both losses. Owens is chillin' in the ATL, hanging out with The Reverend. Looking fit and trim and happy. The Eagles' offense, meanwhile, struggles to function in key situations without Owens. The passing game has looked terrible at the worst possible times.

Right about now, I would guess, the Eagles' organization has its cell phone out, seven digits entered, thumb hovering over the "SEND" button. Certainly there are folks in Philly who feel they should try to patch things up before it's too late.

Too late.

McNabb had it right after his pick sealed a win for the Redskins last Sunday, and nothing changed after his -- there's just no other way to put this -- idiotic interception sent ripples through the division (in a matter of minutes, the Eagles went from being in a three-way tie for second place at 5-4 to 4-5, 0-3 in the division, and two games plus a tiebreaker behind Dallas, which is now tied with the Giants for the lead at 6-3). The Eagles are better off without T.O, although they clearly are not a better football team. The latter is a fact that they simply will have to live with.

It won't be easy, because T.O. reminders are everywhere. And there isn't anything they can do about it except know that they've done the right thing.

Since Monday night's contest, another kind of game has been played around the nation among those who witnessed what transpired. You know it well. It's called the "What If?" Game.

What if T.O. had been in the lineup? Would the Cowboys have been able to key on the shovel pass to Brian Westbrook inside the 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, forcing the Eagles to settle for a -- how often do you hear this? -- costly chip-shot field goal?

What if T.O. and not rookie Reggie Brown were McNabb's intended receiver on the ill-advised pass Roy Williams picked off and took to the end zone to give Dallas the lead? Would there have been as bad a breakdown in communication, lacking though it might be between No. 5 and T.O. off the field?

What if Mike McMahon had been throwing to T.O. and not Brown on the Eagles' final drive? Would T.O. have dropped it, leaving David Akers to try a 60-yard field goal, an attempt that fell -- fittingly, considering the state of the Eagles -- way short? (I can answer that one. Hell no, T.O. doesn't drop it. Not only does he catch it, but he's dancing in the end zone and he's a hero and everybody loves everybody today.)

With McNabb hurting after Bradie James trucked him on Williams' return, causing McNabb to miss the remainder of the game, Philadelphia would feel a lot better about the prospects of its team with McMahon at QB if Owens were at WR. But it doesn't do the Eagles or their fans a bit of a good to play that game with themselves. And it's unfair to view every mistake, as frustrating and as unacceptable as McNabb's last one was, within the context of the T.O. controversy. Both parties are single now, so to speak. Unattached.

It is what it is and it has to be this way. Owens did what he wanted to do and the Eagles did what they had to do. They've just lost their second game in as many without him, both having failed to score more than 20 points, yet the decision to kick him out and take his set of house keys should not be second-guessed. Nor revisited. It's for the best.

It's going to be a long seven weeks for the Eagles, especially if the results of McNabb's Tuesday MRI are bad enough that he needs to shut it down for the season. I also believe Monday night was just the beginning of a bad week for the organization. On Friday, the NFLPA is scheduled to argue Owens' grievance over his four-game suspension/five-game deactivation before an arbitrator. I base the following on absolutely nothing but a hunch, and while such a favorable ruling would set an awful precedent, I can't help but imagine Richard Bloch saying something to the effect of, "So let me get this straight: Terrell Owens wants to play football, but the Eagles don't want him to play for them anymore, right? What sense does it make for him to sit? Release him. Now."

I wouldn't be surprised. Remember the last time folks thought Owens didn't have a case, the Niners and Ravens were left hanging. Regardless of what he said in his apology last week, Owens really doesn't want to play for the Eagles anymore. He's had it with the organization, from what I hear -- and I continue to hear whispers that he and agent Drew Rosenhaus have had it with each other but fear the repercussions of a divorce, but that's for another day -- and has genuine disdain for McNabb. As far as wanting to be back with the Eagles, Owens and Rosenhaus just said what needed to be said for the purposes of their case. I don't know. I just have a feeling they'll win it. Maybe they'll win big.

Which is more than can be said for the Owens-less Eagles. They're at the Giants on Sunday, perhaps without their two best players on offense. After that Philly has Seattle, another game with New York and the Redskins on the schedule. The Eagles have lost three straight, and if not for a blocked field goal for a touchdown against the Chargers, they would be in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Monday evening on "Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith," I said the Eagles, with all the talent and experience that remains on the team, would get it together and still have their say in the division. In a matter of hours -- actually 21 seconds, when the Cowboys scored two touchdowns to win -- I changed my mind.

This could be a .500 team at best. Without McNabb, who knows?

What I do know is that there are many more frustrating weeks ahead for Philadelphia. Suspending Owens meant losing one of the best things to ever happen to the franchise, and the way the Eagles are playing, McNabb in particular, they're going to lose more than they'll win without him this year. But this way is for the best. And the sooner the T.O. saga dies -- for real -- the better off Philadelphia and its Eagles will be.

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.