PERSEVERANCE IS what Donovan McNabb is all about at this point. The rest of it is just talk. He has his fans and he has his critics and we are well past the point where any new converts to either position are going to be created. He has had his high points and he has had his failures and the memories of both cannot be erased.

The portrait that emerges is rich and detailed and very human, no matter how hard McNabb tries to create a distance between all of us and where he sits behind a podium. But even all of that is just talk.

The man is a football player. The man, after yesterday's 27-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers, is going to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight healthy seasons as a full-time starter. He is not the best quarterback in the NFL. He is not the biggest winner. He is not a lot of things that people say about him, both good and bad.

But he endures. After all of this time, it is what he does best.

"We have overcome a lot," McNabb said yesterday. "It's exciting to see the maturation of some of these young guys and guy who are asked to do a lot more than expected . . .

"This offense has definitely opened up a lot of eyes, including ourselves, and the confidence level is high and we just want to continue to feed off each win and move forward."

Last season, it took a miracle for the Eagles to make the playoffs. It was ridiculous what had to happen on the last Sunday of the season for them to make it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of events. And, truth be told, they looked like the same living-on-the-edge team about a month ago.

Since then, though, two things have happened: The offensive line has solidified in front of him and McNabb has excelled behind that line. Yesterday was his worst game in a month and he still completed 21 of 36 passes for 306 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

And now the Eagles have clinched a playoff spot with two games left. At 10-4, they are playing now for the NFC East title, for seeding in the tournament.

"It's always good to clinch a spot earlier, but we're still going to keep the foot on the pedal," he said. "I think, rightfully so, because our first goal was obviously to put ourselves in a position to get a bye and to win the NFC East. And we have a chance of doing that."

Still, he was off a bit yesterday and he knew it. On a cold, blustery day at Lincoln Financial Field, he was a little wild from the very beginning. Of the two interceptions he threw, the second was the most unlike him - throwing back across his body into double coverage. He needs to be better if they are going to make a run here.

"Absolutely, absolutely," McNabb said. "I mean, there were throws that I definitely would want back and were kind of uncharacteristic of myself and just trying to force some things. But, you know, you've got to be smart with the ball and I'll be very critical of myself just watching the film. We made some great plays out there, but there were some plays that we left out on the field. I have to make sure that we eliminate those and get ready for a tough Denver team."

The guy he was forcing the ball to was DeSean Jackson, who continues to astound. But there is a danger in falling too much in love.

"You don't want to get caught up in the whole forcing game," McNabb said. "I think when you get caught up in the whole forcing game, things go negative."

Saying it and doing it are two different things, of course. McNabb knows that better than the rest of us. The best thing he has done this season is nurture the young talent around him. That continues, even now, as he attempts to tell them that just making the playoffs is not where it ends.

"You kind of spread that early, put that bug in their ear early," McNabb said. "I think for the young guys, when they hear 'playoffs,' they automatically go to a bowl season or something. For guys who have been on teams who have never made the playoffs, it's an exciting time for them. But I think they'll be a lot more excited if we put ourselves in a better position to win the NFC East and get a bye and homefield."

He has been there before, after all. He is still pushing the rock. It is what he does, not knowing the ending. After all this time, it is what he does best.

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