To the very end, to the very last question, the last chance to peer over his glasses and offer one little I-told-you-so, Andy Reid rejected the impulse, if it even existed.

He thanked the fans for their support, probably knowing many of them came expecting to bury this season rather than celebrate its continuation. He congratulated his players for continuing to believe in what seemed an unbelievable scenario that would send the Eagles to the postseason. He thanked the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans, who began the day with a combined 11-19 record and needed to beat better teams fighting for playoff spots.

"Exciting day," he said.

From someone else, it would have passed for deadpan humor. From Reid, it was just statement, not understatement.

If this were another coach, perhaps any other coach, there would have been a moment when the curtain pulled aside and he fired a warning shot at those who had written off his tenure here as nothing more than unrealized promise. Buddy Ryan comes to mind. He might have had something to say.

But Reid only plays the game in front of him, and there's really no point in changing now. He didn't bother to watch the early games that decided whether yesterday's regular-season finale against Dallas was meaningful or just a live scrimmage. He figured he would find out soon enough, and got the answer when the cheering of the fans descended through the concrete of Lincoln Financial Field and found him in his office just before the game.

"I didn't watch a snap. Those things, they rip your heart out when you watch them," Reid said.

His heart had taken enough this season already. The excruciating loss to Chicago, when the want of a reliable short-yardage running game was the difference; the unexplainable tie against Cincinnati; and right up to the loss at Washington the week before. Playoff destiny in their control and then nothing but the long odds of hoping for upsets and hoping the right team showed up to play the Cowboys.

If yesterday's 44-6 dismantling of Dallas wasn't an opportunity for cackling, then Reid will never take advantage of one. And, in all probability, he never will.

That's Andy Reid, the same guy when he wins, the same when he loses. If that works for you this morning, it's a good thing because he's not going anywhere any time soon.

"I'm proud of the guys, but we're not done yet," Reid said. "We got to the doorstep and now we have to climb up the steps and get in."

The steps don't look all that high, particularly if the Eagles can play at a level near what they did yesterday. They get a first-round match against a 10-6 Minnesota team that shouldn't scare them; then, if they win, a rematch with a New York Giants team they just beat; then, either Carolina, Atlanta or Arizona. All on the road, but so what?

"The Giants got it done last year. There's no reason we can't do the same thing," Donovan McNabb said.

The only reason would be a return to the inconsistent form they have shown all season, but that's about them, not about the collection of beatable opponents presented by the NFC playoffs.

Yesterday's resounding win didn't just delay a resumption of the questions regarding the future of the franchise. It ended them for at least a year. Reid will be back as the coach. McNabb, who broke his own single-season record for passing yardage, will be back as the quarterback. He just turned 32 and remained uninjured all season for the first time in a while.

It is also likely that the Eagles will be just as frustrating at times next season as they were this season. There will be a good deal of personnel turnover, but the philosophies will remain the same. Only one true West Coast offense made it to the postseason this time, and that would be them. The rest of the league has moved on, but Reid and the Eagles are a touch stubborn, in case you haven't noticed.

"These guys have fought like crazy to get into this position, and I don't anticipate they'll stop fighting," Reid said.

That much is true. The Eagles deserve all the credit for suspending their own disbelief and preparing professionally for yesterday's game. They started the ball rolling downhill against Dallas and kept going until it became a steamroller that flattened a franchise that had recently seemed on the rise.

In this strange season, at the end of this twisting schedule, they finished 9-6-1 and that was just good enough to get them where they wanted to go.

Where they go from here is unknown, except that they will go there with Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb. After a long day of surprises, emerging into nightfall with that certainty may be the most surprising of all.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.