INDIANAPOLIS - Exhibition football under normal circumstances is something less to be savored than it is to be endured. Exhibition football when you are missing a dozen players is something less to be endured than it is to be ignored.

So forget last night. Really, try.

The Eagles are at the point where they are really just going to have to count on their talent and their professionalism to be ready on Opening Day - because it is becoming clearer and clearer, second by awful second, that any notion that they might be able to grow together the old-fashioned way, by practicing together and jelling slowly, isn't going to happen.

It cannot happen with all of these bumps and absences. It cannot happen and it will not happen. Wishing won't help. The delusions of the quarterback will not matter; Donovan McNabb: "We are taking a step ahead. There were a lot of things we could take out of this."

Everybody is just going to have to get used to the idea that we aren't going to know as much about the Eagles as we usually do going into the season. For his part, the coach is clearly getting used to the idea.

"In certain spots, yes," Andy Reid said, and he is talking about the offensive line most of all. "They just haven't played together. I've told you I'm worried about that. That bothers me.

We've got to get guys back, get them in practice so they can work a little bit together."

The Eagles don't look very good and they are not going to look very good until they have a semblance of a healthy team again. Given the stated prognosis for most of the wounded, and assuming that nobody is violating any pacts or anything, they should have a semblance of a healthy team by the start of the season, Sept. 13 at Carolina.

Between now and then, close your eyes - or don't open them except when Michael Vick takes the field for the first time, presumably next Thursday night against Jacksonville. Reid termed last night's 23-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts "an embarrassing performance," and there could be more to come. Last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts' first-team offense scored two touchdowns on the Eagles' first-team defense, and the Eagles' first-team offense scored one touchdown against what was a mixture (at best) of first- and second-teamers.

Safety Quintin Mikell, an honest man, said, "I don't even know how to put it into words. That wasn't Eagles defense, that wasn't what we are about right there. We need to work on a lot of things. Whenever you come in against a good team like that, you can't really make mistakes. We had a lot of mistakes out there and we have to get better than that. That was not Eagles defense."

It wasn't Eagles offense, either. McNabb made a really nice 39-yard throw to DeSean Jackson for the touchdown, but that was it.

"There are a lot of different things we have to learn from and watch, but there were a lot of positive things we could take out of it," McNabb said. The man has a generous, unique concept of the words "a lot."

The other day, Reid said that McNabb and the first-team offense and the first-team defense would play for a half. This was, uh, crazy, especially considering the four backup linemen who were blocking for McNabb (and also considering the very high number of snaps he took in the exhibition opener, 33). Discretion being the better part of valor and all that, Reid apparently changed his mind along the way and got McNabb out of there with 11 minutes, 13 seconds to go in the second quarter.

A guess here is that there are enough questions, and enough moving parts (on his offensive line, especially), that Reid's original plan was to give them more game action than usual this summer, a crash course in continuity that, ideally, wouldn't feature too many crashes.

But, well, here we are. Now fullback Leonard Weaver, one of the new offensive additions, is hurt, too - he did something or other to his knee last night in the first quarter and did not return. If this turns out to be serious, well . . .

The trevails of the offensive line are well-documented; only center Jamaal Jackson is qualified for a perfect-attendance medal at summer school in 2009. The rest of them - all of them - apparently will have to complete their work by correspondence. The final exam is Sept. 13.

"The positive thing about it is that once we get all our guys healthy, we can get things really rolling," McNabb said.

No, the positive thing would have been to get them healthy earlier and get things rolling sooner. But it is not happening - is not.

So just close your eyes and

resign yourself to the fact that you are not going to know a thing about the Eagles until Opening Day.

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