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Bob Ford: Eagles’ tie translates to loss

CINCINNATI - The last time Jon Runyan played in a tie football game, he got a ring at the end of the season.

CINCINNATI - The last time Jon Runyan played in a tie football game, he got a ring at the end of the season.

"Inscribed on the inside, it says 9-0-3, Undefeated Big Ten Champions," the offensive tackle said yesterday.

He was a 19-year-old freshman at Michigan during that 1992 season and has played a lot of football games since then without leaving a locker room having neither won nor lost.

Until yesterday, that is, when the Eagles played to an execrable 13-13 tie against the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the worst teams in the NFL. Except for a severe crosswind that affected the usually reliable Cincinnati placekicker on a game-winning field-goal attempt, it should have been a loss.

It is the kind of game that can lead to big pronouncements. Teams can be written off for the season after a performance like that. Players can lose their starting positions. In other organizations, with other sets of circumstances, this is the kind of game that costs coaches their jobs.

Those pronouncements are too wild, however, for an organization that always insists the sea is placid even as the waves wash wildly over the gunwales.

So, instead, let's just make a small prediction: Tie or no tie, Runyan's not getting a ring this time around.

"I don't know how it will work in the standings," Andy Reid said. "I just know it's not good enough. We need wins, and this is not a win."

It will be left to the mathematicians to figure out exactly how badly the Eagles damaged their already slim chance of making the postseason. There will be plenty there. You can throw most of the tiebreaker scenarios out the window since the Eagles are no longer likely to finish in a tie with another team. Because they have a tie.

The number crunching will be relentless until the Eagles are finally crushed by the weight of what yesterday's game really means. If you can't beat the Cincinnati Bengals, not only aren't you going to the playoffs, you don't really belong there.

"The confidence is high," quarterback Donovan McNabb said about the offense. "There's no waver in our confidence on the offensive side. We've done a lot of great things so far this year, and we'll continue to do a lot of great things."

It must be a wonderful season on his planet, but around here it doesn't really seem that promising. The Eagles are 5-4-1 with games still remaining against a decent Baltimore team and also against their three NFC East division rivals.

Maybe they can be counted on to beat Arizona and Cleveland - emphasis on the maybe - but the team that played Cincinnati yesterday can definitely lose all four of the others. That is what we could be looking at here, a 7-8-1 record in a season in which McNabb stays healthy. That kind of shoots holes in the everything-is-OK-here line of reasoning.

"I feel like I'm sure," Reid said, asked if he still believes there is a very good football team hiding somewhere in the Eagles' locker room. "I'm not proving it to you, I know, but I do feel like I'm sure. But we gotta do it. I can stand up here and answer your questions and talk about it and all that, but that's not doing anybody any good really."

The Eagles' failings on offense are very basic at the moment. They don't throw the ball or catch it very well, even though there is decent pass protection. The coaching staff appears to have lost all confidence in the run game, partially because Brian Westbrook is beaten up, partially because Reid and coordinator Marty Mornhinweg lean away from it by nature, and partially because it never seems to work when they really need it.

Yesterday, the Eagles came up against third-and-1 situations three times and threw incomplete passes on each. They had two second-and-1 situations, passing once and running once. And they did have a quarterback sneak on fourth and inches that worked.

Sometimes football is a very elemental game. If you need to get a yard, you have your big guys knock the other big guys out of the way, and you hand the ball off and get the yard. That's not happening now, and Reid doesn't know why. McNabb doesn't know why. Of course, until yesterday Donovan didn't know that NFL regular-season games can end in a tie, either. He thought they just keep playing.

"I'd hate to see what happens in the Super Bowl or I'd hate to see what happens in the playoffs, to settle with a tie," he said.

We'll leave that where it is for the moment, what it means that an NFL quarterback, a veteran of 10 years, doesn't know the rules by which the game is played. At least it doesn't come up that often. Third downs happen all the time, and the Eagles need to figure out the short-yardage stuff, if it still matters.

"It's not working either way," Runyan said of the pass or run question. "It ain't working one way, so you try something else. Nothing's working now."

Yes, we've noticed. And don't wait for that ring.

"I've never been in a tie before, but I know it's not a win," said Reid, unmoored from his usual postgame patter. "I guess compliments go to them."

It was hard to know exactly what to say yesterday. Except good-bye.