THE SWITCH OF the Eagles-Cowboys game to 4:15 Sunday is an interesting twist.

The Eagles could know when they take the field that they are eliminated from the postseason. In that case, do you send Stewart Bradley out there with a broken rib? Do you play Todd Herremans with shoulder and ankle injuries?

As a fan, if you're getting ready to head down to Lincoln Financial Field, and Tampa Bay builds a huge early lead over Oakland, do you just stay home where it's warm?

Or, what if all the planets line up and the Eagles take the field knowing they will make the playoffs if they can beat Dallas?

Two days ago, the knowledge that they controlled their destiny didn't do much for the Birds. Can you throw away the same playoff berth twice? And at this point, how would the fan base feel if the Eagles actually squeezed in there somehow? Would that cancel out all the inept bumbling that led the team with the NFL's eighth-ranked offense (going into last night's action) and its third-ranked defense to crawl into the final weekend begging for help at 8-6-1?

One thing is clear - inside the NovaCare Complex, nobody is pondering any of this, or acknowledging pondering it, anyway.

"I don't care right now," free safety Brian Dawkins said, when asked about the time switch from 1 p.m. "We gotta play ball, whatever happens."

That has been the Eagles' attitude down the stretch, through the three-game win streak that brought them back from the playoff dead and through Sunday's horrifying 10-3 loss to a Redskins team that would not have scored a touchdown had it not gotten the ball, gift-wrapped, in the red zone.

Back home, you probably expected the Tampa-San Diego result to fire up the Eagles. It meant if the Birds won their final two games, they were in the playoffs, an amazingly direct path for a team that a month before was behind half the NFC at 5-5-1.

But Andy Reid's insistence on worrying only about your own play might have been a double-edged sword. A few Eagles said after the Redskins game they didn't even know San Diego had beaten Tampa. Quite a few people, including Reid, were unaware that the Eagles weren't eliminated by the loss, couldn't have possibly been eliminated by the loss. Ever since the Baltimore debacle, the Birds' mantra has been that they needed to win out, and apparently no one ever told them that wasn't technically true.

Reid was asked yesterday whether he would prefer the team not to know at kickoff time, should it already be eliminated.

"Yeah, but that's probably not realistic in this day and age of technology," Reid said. "I said this before, you can't worry about all the different things that you can't control. You just have to go play; that's the important thing."

It sure looks as if Reid has quite a job to do this week, the way his players seemed crushed by Sunday's loss. In their minds, they lost their chance to make the playoffs when they couldn't generate more than a field goal against a team that had lost five of its previous six games. All the confidence and momentum of the win streak were shattered. The offense was back to scattershot, out-of-rhythm throwing, over and over and over. Donovan McNabb drilled some balls into the ground. His receivers dropped considerably more. Reid made the run game a rumor.

It sure seemed the Eagles proved to themselves that they were not a playoff team at Washington. Getting that emotional edge back, when the team that had to win out has just shown that it can't, will be tricky.

"There is still light at the end of the tunnel," Reid told reporters yesterday. "Obviously, everybody wants to get to the playoffs, and we still have that opportunity."

After talking to reporters, Reid had to address the team. Maybe he was practicing his speech.


Andy Reid

seemed to indicate defensive end

Victor Abiamiri

, who has a mild Lisfranc sprain, probably won't play Sunday . . . Reid noted that 10 of 12 Eagles drives started at their 20 or inside it. "A good football team takes care of that and switches that field position around," he said . . . The Birds slipped to 24th in NFL offensive red-zone rankings, going into last night's action. Curiously, their defense, which ranked third overall, was ranked 27th in red-zone performance. One factor there was that the Eagles were tied for Tampa with the fewest red-zone trips allowed, 32. *

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