BALTIMORE - Andy Reid pushed the button he had never pushed before.
With his franchise quarterback perfectly healthy, the Eagles' coach decided he still needed to make a move in an attempt to rescue his terminally ill offense yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium.
So at halftime, Reid sent quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur to tell slumping Donovan McNabb that Kevin Kolb would be under center to open the second half. It was the first time a healthy McNabb had ever been benched.
Like so many other decisions Reid has made this season, this one did not work either as the Baltimore Ravens turned a three-point halftime lead into a 36-7 rout.
"It was something I thought needed to be done at the time," Reid said after his last-place team slipped to 5-5-1 without scoring an offensive touchdown. "I thought it might be a little bit of a spark and we might be able to get some things going."
McNabb's initial reaction to the news: "Wow."
"Then I knew I had to go along with it and I tried to get our guys to rally behind Kevin Kolb," McNabb said.
If you judge the decision based solely on statistics, Reid made the right call, but that's like saying the winner of the local beauty pageant really stood out because she wasn't missing
Kolb had the better numbers. His passer rating was 15.3, compared to a 13.2 rating for McNabb. Kolb only turned the ball over twice as compared to three turnovers by McNabb. Kolb passed for 73 yards. McNabb passed for only 59.
The truth is that Reid's choice for Thursday's game against the Arizona Cardinals was not made any easier by Kolb's performance.
"I haven't made any decisions on if Kevin is the starter or Donovan's the starter," Reid said before promising that he would reveal his choice today.
While some of the players in the Eagles' locker room said they were shocked by Reid's decision, others felt as if the change was needed.
"At this point, the way we're playing, you'll try anything to get it going," tackle Jon Runyan said. "I mean, you're not going to win many games giving the ball to the other team. You have to make a change and try to make something happen. It's been this way now for a month, month and a half. We're trying to get something happening and it didn't work again today."
The Eagles were certainly in the game when McNabb left it. Thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return by rookie Quintin Demps, they were down by just 10-7 at halftime. But McNabb had thrown two interceptions and lost a fumble in the first half while completing just 8 of his 18 passes.
McNabb, who had seven turnovers in the Eagles' last two games, said he would not have made the same decision as his coach.
"I guess that's my competitive nature," he said. "I always think we can get things going and make some plays. But I'm not the coach."
Kolb, meanwhile, tried to remain calm when told he was going to get the first meaningful playing time of his NFL career.
"My thought process was, 'Let's get it right, get out there and not try to do too much.' . . . Try to lead the team the way I thought I should. Obviously, it didn't go quite as expected."
Kolb's lone bright spot came midway through the final quarter. With the Eagles trailing by 22-7 after a 53-yard touchdown pass from rookie Joe Flacco to Mark Clayton, Kolb completed five straight passes for 53 yards, taking the offense from its own 30-yard line to the Baltimore 1.
After failing to score on a quarterback sneak, Kolb put his name in the NFL record books with just the 23d pass of his career. It's not a piece of history he's going to want to remember.
The second-year quarterback tried to find Reggie Brown in the left corner of the end zone, but Ravens safety Ed Reed stepped in front of the pass for an interception that he returned an NFL-record 108 yards for a touchdown.
"What frustrates me is once I got in a rhythm and we went down the field, I made a mistake at the end there that basically cost us the game," Kolb said. "If I make that throw or throw it away . . . then it's a totally different ball game. Obviously, it didn't go good and I'm not going to pretend that it did."
Kolb completed just three of his final nine passes.
What everyone in the Eagles' locker room seemed to agree upon is that this team's problems go far deeper than the quarterback.
"Right now, we're probably the biggest underachieving team in the league," Brown said. "This feels like rock bottom. Nothing is clicking. We all need to take a look in the mirror and see where we're going."
Even though Reid pushed the button he had never pushed before yesterday, he has to decide if he wants to pull the plug on his longtime quarterback for good beginning with Thursday night's game against the Cardinals.
It did not sound as if that was the direction he was headed, but he left the door open.
"Sometimes with a player, you can step back an inch and maybe you can go forward a mile," Reid said.
And sometimes it's time to move on.
"You never know," Runyan said. "You have to go out and play and see what happens. As far as I know, history says you don't stay at the top forever."
Ravens Pick Eagles Clean
The Eagles completed 18 passes for 132 yards passing to their own receivers (no touchdowns), and four passes to three Ravens defenders (two each by Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb), for 163 yards and one touchdown.
Safety Ed Reed had two picks, one for an NFL-record 108 yards and a TD, as well as a second for 43 yards. Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington also had interceptions, and end-linebacker
Jarret Johnson recovered a fumble in midair that looked like an interception in the second quarter.