LAST CALL, then.

Last call or U-Haul.

After Sunday's loss to Seattle, the Eagles are just about down to the nub here and they all know it. With their 5-7 record, with everything, they pretty much have to win out from here in order to make the NFC playoffs - and even that might not get it done. Given the train wreck near the bottom of the wild-card standings, it is hard to say anything definitive, but 9-7 or 8-8 likely will be enough to give one lucky franchise the opportunity to stagger for 1 more week toward oblivion. Yippee.

"The mood of the team, we were upset because of the way we lost [to Seattle]," said linebacker Takeo Spikes, who dropped an easy interception against the Seahawks. "Of course, it was unacceptable, but there were plays that we left out there on the field, especially

myself, I'll take credit for that.

"We're eager now. There's no secret, we have to win every game from here out. Before we talk about the other three, the

Giants are the most important."

Eagles-Giants, Sunday, 1 p.m. So you wandered around the

Eagles' practice facility, searching for a hint, a sign, something. To be honest, there wasn't much. Quarterback Donovan

McNabb practiced again yesterday, and his sprained ankle looked fine, and that is the

obvious hope. On defense, safety Quintin Mikell figures to be back from his knee problem, and that, too, should help.

Mikell said, "You want to go

into a championship fight at full speed," and the Eagles are at least approaching that. A concern has been cornerback Lito Sheppard, who was yanked out of last week's game with a continuing knee problem. Could it happen again?

"If you're not at full speed at cornerback, it's a difficult position to play," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "If he's not full speed, we're probably going to make that switch again . . . I think he's fighting through it and that's all you can ask."

And, well, et cetera. If you are a little bored by this, it remains a fairly accurate portrayal of what it feels like around this team at this point in a 5-7 season. McNabb has developed a little bit

of a hard edge, which is understandable given his continual

injury issues and the constant talk about his potential departure after this season, but that

is not the dominant atmospheric surrounding this team. It is just this . . . waiting.

That really is it. It has been hard to put a term to this feeling but that is it - waiting. So far this season, running back Brian Westbrook has really been the only Eagles player who consistently seems prepared to take charge of a situation, to make

a play, to try to turn a game's

momentum, to speak/play in

the active voice.

For most everybody else, it is more passive. When middle

linebacker Omar Gaither says, "Obviously, we're not where we want to be but we're pretty excited," he is trying to say the right thing and generally succeeding. But he is very much like his teammates, who can read the standings as well as the next guy, who know what this team has been, who want it to be there again, but who seem incapable

of taking action.

There is competence all over the roster, but little ability so far to exceed that. It is as if they all know what this team has been

in the past, and they are just hanging around and hanging in and just waiting for it to happen again. Just waiting.

Take the whole turnover business, which has been stunning. With 13 - and that included

two last week against Seattle - they have fewer takeaways than any team in the NFL. Their ability to drop interceptions this season has been unsurpassed, with Spikes very active in that category. But it isn't just that. It is

opposing quarterbacks with too much time to operate, and pass coverage weakened by injuries at times.

Coming into the season, everyone was worried about the run defense, and that has not been a problem. It is the turnovers

instead, and it is killing this

defense.

Takeaways are not everything in the NFL, not the only thing, but they are vital to a team's

success. The Eagles' failure in this area has been maddening, and debilitating, if for no other reason than their offense is so rarely the beneficiary of a short field after a turnover.

"It's a fine line," Johnson was saying. "You take the Seattle Seahawks, who are 8-4. They had two takeaways in the last series to win two ballgames [including Sunday against the Eagles]. Otherwise, they're a 6-6 team. We had a couple more chances the other day to get two turnovers and we didn't get them. It makes a difference in games. Down the stretch, you have to get them to get field position for the offense, and to stop drives. It's a big part of the NFL and it's frustrating."

But it is the story of the

Eagles' season, this inability

to take charge of a situation, to take over a game, or a moment. At least it is so far. *

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