CINCINNATI - The overtime details will slip away gradually over time. What do the psychiatrists call it? Repressed memory?

The fact that Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb turned over the ball four times in a game for the first time since 2003 will be slowly forgotten. The minutiae of the Eagles' 2008 season, which just about died yesterday in a 13-13 tie against the bedraggled Bengals, will pass from our consciousness, too.

The symbolism will remain, though. And this will always be remembered as the day when the Eagles' quarterback admitted to not knowing that an NFL game could end in a tie.

"No, I didn't know that," McNabb said at his postgame press conference. The 10-year veteran said he was not aware that one overtime is all you get in the NFL in the regular season until the final play of that overtime, when the Eagles tried an unsuccessful Hail Mary pass. He said, "When the play was called, I kind of figured, 'I guess there's ties in the NFL.' "

He said, "I've never been a part of a tie. I never even knew that was in the rule book. It's part of the rules and we have to go with it. I was looking forward to the next opportunity to get out there and try to drive to win the game."

Then McNabb compounded his error by not knowing the postseason overtime rule. Those games do play to a conclusion for obvious reasons, but McNabb said, "I hate to see what happens in the Super Bowl or I hate to see what happens in the playoffs. You have to settle with a tie."

Uh, no. Several of his teammates, a couple of them veterans, also admitted to not knowing the rule. There was a brotherhood of the uninformed in that locker room, and that is worth mentioning here - not that it will matter. And whether or not McNabb knew the rule, it had no material effect on how he played in the game. That should be mentioned, too - again, not that it will matter.

It is just the symbolism. It was McNabb's wet-chart moment, a homage to former Eagles coach Rich Kotite's two-point conversion sheet that became smeared one rainy day in Dallas.

It makes the quarterback look weak at a crucial moment for him and the franchise. McNabb's play has slipped in recent weeks, and now this - a disastrous game for him, three picks and a lost fumble and this memorable gaffe on top of it. It is not a good time for this, not for any of it.

Because the questions about backup quarterback Kevin Kolb will be coming - make no mistake about that. The first one came yesterday after the game to Eagles coach Andy Reid, about how long McNabb's leash might be at this point.

Reid sounded terrible yesterday, beaten up, beleaguered. The last two games have been crushing for the playoff chances of a team now standing at an ungainly 5-4-1. Reid's voice was cracking a little bit, and sometimes it barely rose above a whisper. This was one of those times, on the short-leash question.

His nearly inaudible reply was, "Just keep firing."

It is what needs to happen. For all of their sakes, this should be allowed to play out to its conclusion. Yes, it is true, McNabb has not thrown three interceptions in a game since a loss at Tampa Bay in 2006, and he has not turned over the ball four times in a game since a loss to New England in 2003.

His play is deteriorating and the play around him is deteriorating. He and his sometimes ham-handed receivers are racing each other to infamy. But in his case, both Reid and McNabb said there is no hidden physical problem.

"I was just being aggressive - that's what you have to do in this league," McNabb said, talking about the three interceptions, one of which came on a deflection off receiver Kevin Curtis' shoulder pad.

McNabb has now thrown five picks in his last three games. He has started alarmingly slowly now in four straight games. This season, he has been tackled with the ball only 38 times (15 sacks, 23 runs) but fumbled on five of them, losing three. Overall, the trend is not his friend.

But this needs to play out. After 10 years, history demands that this season finishes with McNabb, for better or worse.

"The confidence is high - there is no wavering of our confidence on the offensive side," he insisted.

But is there still time to turn things around?

"I would like to think so, yes," McNabb said. His voice betrayed nothing, not delusions, not false bravado, nothing. *

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