Andy Reid said this yesterday in the auditorium at the NovaCare Complex. He said it in front of the cameras and the tape recorders and the sepia-toned, mural-sized picture of Chuck Bednarik, who never looks very amused, and this didn't seem to help his mood, either.

This is what Andy Reid said: "One of the great things about this is we are still within striking distance."

The coach did not list any other great things about the Eagles' situation. Perhaps there are too many great things to name in the allotted time. But one of the great things, apparently, is that the Eagles have somehow not played themselves out of theoretical playoff contention, no matter how hard they have tried.

"With three games left, as we all know, anything is possible in the National Football League," Reid said.

You have to admire Reid's loyalty to the task at hand. If he were in charge of getting people off the sinking ship, he would do so calmly, assuring them that everything still could work out, even though the icy water already had reached the bow rail and the lifeboats badly needed repair. After all, anything is possible in the North Atlantic.

Reid keeps charting this steady, pointless course because it is his job, and because it is his nature. He has to keep the locker room from quitting. He has to think about the future of the team. All of that, certainly. But he also believes in the notion of playing until the whistle. It has not sounded yet for the Eagles, true enough. So, you play.

Anyone who expected otherwise from this coach was mistaken, and he also indicated yesterday that the team on the field now is likely the one that will finish the schedule - mathematics or no mathematics.

Those of you who were hanging around for the sole purpose of getting a peek at rookie quarterback Kevin Kolb, once the postseason candle finally has been extinguished, can go ahead and leave quietly by the nearest aisle right now.

If the Eagles lose Sunday against Dallas and are eliminated, Reid will play his regulars the following week in New Orleans. Why? Because the Saints probably still will be alive, and it wouldn't be fair to other playoff hopefuls if the Eagles were to give them a free ride.

And the final game of the season, at Lincoln Financial Field against Buffalo? Perhaps it is a misreading of the situation, but would the Eagles want Kolb to play well and then have that performance permeate the off-season - and the psyche of the sensitive incumbent quarterback - like a whiff of enticing perfume?

Better to just play it out as it is and continue to say nice things about Donovan McNabb. The front office went to the trouble last week of plumping McNabb's pillow, with team president Joe Banner essentially naming him Quarterback For Life. Short-sheeting the bed two weeks later doesn't figure at all.

So forget about the kid. You aren't seeing him. If McNabb is injured again, you get A.J. Feeley again. Because that's the way we do things around here.

Playing Kolb, it was suggested in this space, made sense five weeks ago when the Eagles were 3-5 and had just been smacked around by the Cowboys. It was clear the Eagles wouldn't contend for anything serious, and giving Kolb a bunch of games in a lost season seemed logical. He would get experience, the Eagles could assess what they had for the future, and McNabb could quietly finish his obviously incomplete rehabilitation from knee surgery.

That moment has passed. Now the team is close enough to the finish line that Reid can make a case for whipping this stumbling nag all the way back to the barn.

"Do I think the players are frustrated, and the coaches are frustrated?" Reid said. "Sure, absolutely. On the other hand, you still have a chance. So, I don't see where the frustration would overrule your opportunity to achieve this week."

That is true only if the players believe in the opportunity, too, and that won't be known until Sunday.

"They'll have another opportunity to go out this week and get even better than what they were last week," Reid said. "I think that's a pretty positive thing to have going for you with three games left."

Even better than last week? Ooh, is that



All right, enough. Reid is going to say this stuff, and he is going to believe it, and he is going to try like heck to get everyone else to believe it, too. (Because that's the way we do things around here.)

It doesn't make for a particularly interesting end of the season, but this is the only way Reid will have it end. Give him credit for consistency, for avoiding controversy, and for getting as many passengers to safety as possible. As usual, women, children and starting quarterbacks are first in the lifeboats.