Here's a question, and I'm only half-joking: If you took 10 kids who played "Madden" on a regular basis and pitted them against Andy Reid, how many would win?

Because every time I hear John Madden complain about people who don't play his video game correctly, or honestly, I wonder - well, what would he think about Reid's game management on most weekends?

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Specifically, what would he have thought about it in the first half of last night's 30-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns?

Would he, after a completion put the ball on the Cleveland Browns' 2-yard line with 35 seconds left in the first half last night, allow 26 seconds to evaporate while getting his team to the line and running the ball, before calling his final timeout with 9 seconds remaining?

Would he emerge from that timeout and be called for an illegal formation?

Would he then "dial up" a dangerous lob pass into the end zone off that timeout? One that resulted in an interception, a near-disastrous 98-yard return that looked eerily familiar to that pivotal play in Baltimore four games ago?

Come to think of it, would Madden approve of having a backup quarterback pass from the 1-yard line in that tight game against the Ravens?

See what I'm getting at?

You're supposed to learn from your mistakes, right?

So why doesn't he?

I know, I know. On a night when the Birds manhandled Cleveland as if the Browns were a Pop Warner team, how can I fixate on this? But that's just the point. Smug, stubborn or stupid, the Eagles head coach can manage to make you scratch your head or pull on your hair even on a night like this, a night when his quarterback managed the game masterfully (mostly), when his star running back reinforced that he is the team's lifeblood, when the Eagles, as a team, executed well and treated the four-win Browns the way they should have treated the Bengals.

The Birds went into the locker room at halftime with a 17-3 lead. So why did it feel so, so . . . yucky? Was it because Brian Westbrook had to run about 100 yards on the final play to prevent a 98-yard interception return from turning into a 17-10 lead? Was it because your team's touch-football playcalling had directly resulted in 10 lost points?

Last week a 71-yard blocked field goal returned by the Giants for a touchdown on the final play of the half flipped what could have been 13-0 at the half into 10-7. Reid's strategy was not at fault there. In fact, the Eagles had begun the drive from their own 42 with just 1:02 left, had managed the clock brilliantly.

So it's no slam-dunk that any of the 10 kids would beat him.

But I bet more than a few would give him a game.

To be clear: Reid is a good NFL coach. He has proven that again this December, just when doubt had reached its highest level in his tenure here. The Eagles executed well on offense last night. Their defense made a third-string quarterback seem like a fourth-string quarterback. Under Reid, the Eagles have tended to peak late rather than early, unless you count those three consecutive losses in NFC Championship Games, or that winnable Super Bowl that was frittered away.

Those were all supposed to be building blocks, learning tools if you will, that would season and school the young coach - still just 50 years old. He would get better at time management. He would manage risk better. He would adjust to his personnel, not make them adjust to him.

But then you see the end of the first half last night. The bad time management, that ill-advised pass from McNabb that harkened to that fourth-quarter interception thrown by Kevin Kolb, the one that flipped a winnable game against the Ravens into an embarrassing rout and shaved the Eagles' margin of error to zero.

Last night there was also this direct snap to DeSean Jackson on a third-and-goal from the 7-yard line early in the game, a call that Madden probably wouldn't even allow to be programmed into his game. Jackson threw into the middle of the end zone and was intercepted.

The Eagles led 10-3 at the time.

They finished 2-for-7 in red-zone efficiency.

That meant little last night against a team that would be hard-pressed to beat the winless Lions. The Browns, in their current state, look like a fantasy team constructed by a 10-year-old who does not play Madden frequently, or at all.

But it could mean something 5 days from now in Washington. Or 2 weeks from now, in the season finale here against Dallas. From here on in, the Eagles need to rely on execution near the goal line, not trickery.

Play the game the way it's supposed to be played, Madden tells those 10-year-olds.

If he's smart, Reid will do the same. *

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com.

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