It doesn't matter that Kevin Kolb didn't draft himself in the second round when the Eagles could have used help at nearly any position besides quarterback.

It makes no difference that Kolb doesn't make himself stand with the coaches while the first-team offense practices every week, or that Kolb didn't insert his underprepared self into a game against the Baltimore Ravens' voracious defense.

No one cares that there's a learning curve for every young quarterback in the NFL and that the only way to negotiate it is to play in games that matter.

It is irrelevant that Andy Reid created the difficult situation Kolb now faces, because Kolb and only Kolb can get himself out of it. And it appears he will get a single game - Sunday at the Linc, against the New Orleans Saints - to accomplish that.

The signing of Jeff Garcia yesterday underscored just how slim Kolb's margin for error is. Kolb will get this start - Reid said as much, albeit before the Garcia signing - and that might be all he ever gets.

There remains a chance that Donovan McNabb will play with a fractured rib - he is built that way - but the Garcia signing suggests that the Eagles don't expect him to. They need at least two QBs in uniform. If McNabb were likely to be one of them, it would make more sense to sign Adam DiMichele than Garcia - especially with Michael Vick poised to come off the suspended list next week.

With all of those battle-tested veterans in the shadows - McNabb, Garcia, Vick sounds more like the 2004 NFC Pro Bowl depth chart - Kolb gets his singular moment in the spotlight.

Lucky him.

So Kolb has to be good. Really good. Outscore-Drew-Brees good. Otherwise, the entire three-year odyssey that began on draft day 2007 will be written off as a waste. Kolb will join the likes of Antone Davis, Jerome McDougle, and Bobby Hoying in the annals of Eagles infamy.

It won't entirely be Kolb's fault if that happens. But it is entirely up to Kolb to deliver a first-rate performance and redefine himself to Eagles fans.

"I'm in my third year now," Kolb said yesterday. "It's time to roll. No time better than now if I do have to step out there."

He's right in ways he didn't intend. Ideally, of course, McNabb would stay healthy and play 16 games and lead the team back to the playoffs. But it is much better for Kolb to get his full week of practice with the first team and to start his first game in Week 2 than in December or January. He can't make or break the Eagles' season Sunday. He can only make or break his own career.

And with Vick's unique status - is he a part-time weapon or the future starter? - it will actually help Reid to see how Kolb handles this game. The coach tends to stand behind his players, and he certainly wouldn't want to acknowledge a mistake as significant as trading a first-round pick to the hated Dallas Cowboys, dropping into the second round, and taking Kolb. As long as Kolb remains underexposed and undefined, Reid can cling to the position that Kolb is a viable option to lead the team if McNabb goes down.

If Kolb plays and plays well, he becomes an interesting asset both on the field and in the Eagles' long-term machinations. This is, after all, a team that got a second-round pick for A.J. Feeley just a couple of years back.

But if he's going to learn anything about Kolb, Reid has to see the kid run the Eagles' normal offense. If you're thinking Reid will go conservative and rely on the running game to get through McNabb's absence, forget that. Remember Koy Detmer in San Francisco in 2002? Feeley at New England in 2007? Reid would come out throwing if the Venus de Milo was playing quarterback for him.

Kolb is the guy Reid handpicked to groom as McNabb's eventual replacement, or at least a legitimate option in the event of another major injury to the franchise guy. A coach who prides himself on developing quarterbacks, Reid has had more than two years to tutor Kolb. He must want to see what the kid is really about.

Kolb has played only in thankless situations so far - meaningless preseason games, the debacle in Baltimore last year, a couple of mop-up tasks. That helps explain why he hasn't exactly dazzled anyone with his performances, but it doesn't let him completely off the hook.

Kolb was free to rise to any of those occasions and play like a starting NFL quarterback. He didn't, which may be why Garcia is on his way back to Philadelphia.

Now Kolb gets another chance. It will be his best chance, which is good, because it's probably his last.