As the Eagles clambered down the stretch, there were fans who said they really hoped their team would miss the playoffs, because they figured that was the only way Andy Reid was going to get fired. And they very much felt Reid's departure was necessary for the franchise to move forward.

Once, this group was the lunatic fringe. This year, it was more than that. A whole lot more. Even the nonhaters had to understand the rationale, and wonder, at least a little. Over and over again, slogging along with the third-and-1 follies, the time-management debacles, living and dying with Brian Westbrook's health, and most infuriatingly, the out-of-sync offensive imbalance, culminating in the 16 called pass plays in a row at Washington. You read in the Daily News last week that the Eagles were on the cusp of missing the playoffs two seasons in a row, despite ranking in the NFL's top 10 in both offense and defense in 2007 and 2008, an amazing feat that would seem to speak to coaching.

But the Eagles did not miss the playoffs. They battled through one of the roughest weeks, emotionally, since the days of the T.O. circus, and with some help, they redeemed themselves. When the dust cleared, they were a 9-6-1 wild-card playoff team, uncannily close to what most of us thought they would be 4 months ago, before so many teeth were gnashed.

So when Reid met with reporters yesterday, in a setting quite different from the one he'd faced a week earlier, surely he had to be tempted, just a little, to go the "how do you like me now?" route. Hey, even Donovan McNabb, Andy Jr. when it comes to press conferences, indulged himself a little in that area after Sunday's rout of Dallas.

But the only thing that bristled behind the NovaCare podium yesterday was Reid's good-luck beard.

"Listen, that's not how I operate," Reid said. "I know it's crazy, but we're all in this thing together, trying to make a living at doing what we're doing, and I know it's not an easy job, day-in and day-out. We're blessed to be here in Philadelphia, with a great fan base that's knowledgeable about the game. I mentioned to somebody that in a lot of cities, it's game-to-game. In Philadelphia, it's play-to-play, and you have to love that . . .From play to play, you're criticized for the bad and praised for the good. It's a great atmosphere for football."

One of the guys a lot of Eagles fans would rather have running their team is Jon Gruden, who absolutely outcoached Reid in what might have been the Eagles' best shot at winning a Super Bowl, the NFC Championship Game after the 2002 season that closed down the Vet. Gruden is emotional, visceral, quick with a quip - all the things Reid isn't.

Gruden also is 10-20 in December and January since he took Tony Dungy's team to the promised land. After his Bucs coughed it up for the fourth game in a row Sunday to give the Eagles life, Gruden had managed to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in 6 years.

No, miraculously squeezing into the final postseason berth didn't erase everything bad that happened on Reid's watch this season. But it did make perspective a little more complicated, didn't it?

Developing storylines

*Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson is a fearsome weapon, yes, - "maybe the MVP of the National Football League," Andy Reid called him yesterday - but his fumble Sunday was his league-high ninth of the season. Mr. Dawkins, Mr. Brian Dawkins, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

*That second-quarter pick Sunday by Sheldon Brown was his only interception of the season. Kinda timely.

*The Eagles might miss Victor Abiamiri (foot) more this week, against a good running team like Minnesota. You had to like what Chris Clemons did with the extra reps against the Cowboys, though. "Chris Clemons had a career day, he was all over the field making plays," Reid noted.

*The NFL Network's Adam Schefter reported over the weekend that Eagles general manager Tom Heckert was in the mix for a job in Detroit. Apparently, that won't happen because the Lions announced they will stay with their current front-office structure. But, the buzz around the organization is that Heckert, a GM candidate last year in Atlanta, is going to leave this offseason, somehow. "I haven't heard anything on that, and Tom and I haven't talked about it," Reid said, when asked about the Detroit report.

Obscure stat

The Cowboys' defense hadn't allowed a first-half touchdown since Nov. 16. Then it allowed three in the second quarter Sunday.

Who knew?

That two teams from Tampa - the Rays and the Bucs - would do so much to benefit the citizens of Philadelphia this year?

Extra Point

It was pretty clear after the game Sunday that Donovan McNabb considered himself ill-used, yet again last week. This time it was the flap over McNabb evaluating his season's play as "great," while acknowledging that getting a new contract will be on his mind when he sits down with management in the offseason.

Given some sympathetic coaxing by national media members in attendance at his postgame news conference (including one guy who had been among McNabb's harshest critics in the Terrell Owens debacle of 2005), McNabb made several interesting statements.

He reiterated his "Big Yellow Taxi" refrain of last week, while making it clear that he doesn't want this to all be about him: "You never get enough credit until you're gone, and I'm not looking for any credit right now," McNabb said.

Maybe the most relevant thing going forward was when McNabb was asked about speaking up for himself within the organization - presumably, in the postseason conversation he has been talking about ever since he was benched for the second half of the Baltimore game Nov. 23. As rosy as life looks this morning, for No. 5 and the raised-from-the-dead team, that is still going to be a very interesting conversation, which could entail a McNabb demand for a new contract and a signing bonus that would effectively make him untradeable for at least a few years.

"They know when something else is on my mind," McNabb said. "And it's important - that's just professionalism, if it's something on your mind, you go and share it with the people that need to hear it, and there has been a lot on my mind, and there will be something that is shared when the time comes."