Donovan McNabb won't be coming through that giant green inflatable helmet at Lincoln Financial Field on a white horse, but on Sunday he will have a chance to play a role that has been reserved for other quarterbacks during his tenure with the Eagles.

In 2002, Koy Detmer and A.J. Feeley rode to the rescue when the Eagles lost McNabb to a fractured leg with six games remaining in the regular season.

A year ago, it was Jeff Garcia who shockingly saved the season and led the Eagles to an NFC East title after McNabb was lost for the final six games with a torn knee ligament.

Now, after Feeley's four interceptions in Sunday's loss to Seattle provided a grim reminder of the seven-game Mike McMahon era two seasons ago, the Eagles' 2007 season is in need of a miraculous rescue.

After missing two games with a sprained right ankle and a sprained right thumb, McNabb will get a chance to be the returning star who triggers a playoff run starting with Sunday's game against the 8-4 New York Giants.

The quarterback is quite aware that the Eagles' margin for error has dwindled to zero.

"That is the mind-set and that has to be the mind-set," McNabb said before joining his teammates inside the bubble for a practice yesterday at the NovaCare Complex. "We can't afford to lose any more games."

The Eagles, 5-7, have a decent chance to get into the playoffs if they can end the season with a four-game winning streak, but that sure doesn't seem likely when you consider that they have won back-to-back games only once all season.

If they win just their next two, they'll be doing so against NFC East rivals with a combined 19-5 record. A win over the Giants would send the Eagles to Dallas (11-1) for at least one more meaningful game.

An NFC East exacta seems even more unlikely for the Eagles when you consider what happened the last time they played the Giants and Cowboys. The Cowboys, of course, clobbered the Eagles, 38-17, at the Linc on Nov. 4.

The Eagles' loss at Giants Stadium on the final day of September was equally as convincing, even though the margin of defeat wasn't nearly as severe. In their 16-3 victory, the Giants tied an NFL record with 12 sacks of McNabb, including six by defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who took full advantage of Winston Justice's inexperience in the first NFL start of the offensive tackle's career.

"It's over," McNabb said when asked about the last meeting with the Giants. "I think, at this point, you look at the mistakes you made and go back and look at certain plays that were called and better ways you can attack their defense. That game was a long time ago. It's a different part of the season and this is the time you really want to play well."

The good news for McNabb and the Eagles is that veteran William Thomas has been back at left tackle since missing the first Giants game with a sprained knee ligament. Thomas has played at an exceptionally high level all season and has more than held his own in past battles with Umenyiora. Thomas has gone against the Giants' star defensive end six times, and Umenyiora has just one sack in those games.

Thomas still has a lot of respect for the 6-foot-3, 261-pound defensive end.

"Osi is great," Thomas said. "He's a very good defensive end, so it was a tough situation with Winston coming in. He has the ability to speed rush, and he's also strong enough to give you the good bull rush, so it makes it kind of hard."

The Eagles have allowed just three sacks in their last three games, and one was because Feeley tripped as he pulled away from center against New England. Another occurred when Feeley failed to throw away the football after leaving the pocket late in Sunday's loss to Seattle.

"My two weeks off, the offensive line played better, so hopefully we can continue that," McNabb said.

The Eagles weren't just missing Thomas in the last meeting with the Giants. They also were without running back Brian Westbrook, who is expected to play Sunday even though he did not practice yesterday because of an aching right knee.

Westbrook may have been missed more in the first Giants game for his ability to pick up blitzes than his ability to accumulate yards and score touchdowns.

"I think Correll [Buckhalter] did a great job in that game," said Westbrook, who noted that Buckhalter rushed for 103 yards. "I think I could have taken some pressure off Donovan and the other guys on offense."

The offense always works best when Westbrook is part of it. But McNabb's return is the key in a stretch in which there is no margin for error for the Eagles.

"Donovan's our guy," Westbrook said. "He's a guy that we've been through a lot of wars with. We're excited that he's healthy enough to come back and play, and we're expecting big things from him."

Anything less and the Eagles are guaranteed to be spending January watching the playoffs.