THE GRASS ISN'T always greener, even when it is newly arrived from a sod farm. This, the people of Philadelphia have learned - if not by A.J. Feeley's third interception, then certainly by his fourth.

Hours later, in the dark of the autumn night, a cold and miserable rain was still falling over Lincoln Financial Field, the precipitation playing in the lights. It was more dripping than dropping, if that makes any sense. Everybody was gone.

The detritus of defeat lay on the Eagles' sideline, and in their dressing room. What do you say when Feeley, The People's Choice, has just thrown away a football game? Because that is what he did.

Everybody saw it. Everybody felt it, the numbing thud when the afternoon's emotional pendulum made sickly contact on its final swing. Brian Westbrook's magical punt return set them up to steal the game at the end. Then Feeley threw another pick, his fourth.

Seahawks 28, Eagles 24. Thud.

And what was left? Crushed paper cups that didn't quite make it into the nearby trash can. The ribbons on the goal posts, barely moving. Players heading out of the locker room and into the uncertainty of the December night with a 5-7 record, admonished by their coach - as related by cornerback Sheldon Brown - "to stay together."

This was left, too: The irony that dripped along with the weather, the irony that Philadelphia would now look, unanimously, for Donovan McNabb to try to save the Eagles' season.

"We'll see what happens this week," right tackle Jon Runyan said. "We'll see. It will be the talk of the week. I've said it for the past couple of weeks: I think people get excited about change. Change isn't necessarily good. It's unfortunate it's like that."

As it turned out, coach Andy Reid decided that McNabb's sprained ankle still wasn't healthy enough for him to play yesterday against Seattle. McNabb stood on the sidelines, inactive, with a towel tucked under his cap to keep his neck dry.

Reid said he thought McNabb would be able to play Sunday against the Giants. McNabb said nothing - and why should he?

All of the media polls taken last week were as unscientific as they were unsympathetic - by big majorities, they all wanted Feeley to start the game rather than McNabb. It is natural enough, given that people always want the NFL backup quarterback to play, given that Feeley had moved the Eagles well despite throwing three interceptions the week before at New England. But it was also a harsh dismissal of the best quarterback this franchise has seen, at least in the modern era.

Defending the notion in the newspaper that McNabb deserved another start, for the sake of propriety and dignity if for nothing else, earned a hundred or so negative e-mails as opposed to a handful in support. Such is McNabb's current state of existence.

He has not had a good year, coming off knee surgery, and his play has held the Eagles back in some games - but this goes way beyond that. He cannot win anymore, not in this town, not with these people. Yet the ones who still hold out hope for this woebegone Eagles season - they're still only a game behind in the wild-card race, etc. - have no choice but to embrace No. 5.

His teammates, too, are searching for whatever lift the quarterback might provide.

"I hope Donovan comes in and is himself," Westbrook said. "He brings another spark to our offense that's already OK. We're a team that needs a lift right now. We need somebody to bring some type of lift. We need to put points on the board. Hopefully Donovan will do that."

Middle linebacker Omar Gaither saw it this way: "We would be happy to see him back, obviously - he is the starter. But I think our boost should be the fact that we need to win. I think if anybody is counting on one guy to give everybody the energy to win - and Don is certainly a guy that can do that - but our motivation will be to win. That should be enough."

It should be. This Eagles season, though, has left all of us a bit perplexed, not quite knowing what to expect, not quite knowing what to say. It must be the same way in the stands. After all, how is it possible that no one chanted after Feeley's third interception, or after his fourth?

Cold, drenched, frustrated, didn't somebody have to yell it? Just to set the tone for next week? Just because?

You know:

"We want Don . . . We want Don . . . "

Because he is their only hope now. *

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