LET'S PRETEND for a moment that you can take what Joe Banner said last week at face value. I don't think you really can, but he did say it, so let's pretend: The Eagles really do intend to start the 2008 season with Donovan McNabb as their quarterback.

Sure, there's a good chance McNabb will be more confident in his right ACL with another offseason of healing. But at this point, nobody in their right mind can pretend that will be enough.

Somebody has to sit down with McNabb this offseason and undertake some heavy repairs. Andy Reid, Joe Banner, maybe Reid, Banner and Jeffrey Lurie - heck, bring in Christina Lurie and Roxie McNabb, if that will help. But something is really wrong here, and it isn't just an ouchy ACL.

I've defended McNabb at length, and I don't take any of that back. A lot of the abuse he has weathered over the years has been absurd. He isn't a choker, he has plenty of physical courage, he does know how to read defenses, he isn't betraying some sort of sacred African-American heritage by not running with the ball every other play, and his five Pro Bowls were not the result of us darned white liberals trying to sully the playing fields with our noxious gospel of affirmative action.

But what I see right now is a quarterback who has not taken ownership of the team's situation, who plays like he has little confidence in himself or the players around him. You saw Sunday what we've seen through most of the struggle to 5-8, a McNabb who resolutely won't throw downfield, too often won't pull the trigger even when his target seems to be open, who runs the offense as though his mind and maybe his heart are elsewhere.

Remember Sunday, third-and-goal from the Giants' 12, after the Brandon Jacobs fumble that Mike Patterson picked up? The first read was a slant to Greg Lewis, coming from the left slot. And Lewis cut inside the defender. But McNabb saw blitz, looked to his right, away from Lewis, and threw the ball out of bounds over L.J. Smith, running a clear-out route, not even part of the progression. It seemed McNabb decided to take the field goal the second he sensed pressure. Did he not trust the play-call? The receiver? The protection? Himself?

Maybe McNabb wishes Reid and Co. had gotten him tight end Greg Olsen with their first-round pick last spring, instead of trading that choice and drafting McNabb's presumed successor, Kevin Kolb. Maybe he took offense that they weren't able to bring back wideout Donté Stallworth, or add to McNabb's arsenal in any significant way. Maybe McNabb resented the relentless push to be "ahead of schedule" in his return from the ACL injury, to pretend he was ready to go the moment training camp started, when the quarterback really needed several more months to be able to plant his leg normally.

Whatever the background, the McNabb the Eagles have right now just isn't good enough, and that doesn't seem to be a purely physical problem, and it doesn't seem to be just because the wideouts aren't so great. When they sit down in the offseason, if this no-trade scenario is for real, the Eagles need to find out what McNabb requires to get fully engaged again, heart and soul, and then they need to try hard to obtain it. And they must be very clear, that they are going to try to win with him in 2008, but there are no guarantees. If McNabb can't be comfortable in that situation, then they need to send him elsewhere, cleanly and quickly, and start the Kolb era. Not another year of this wandering and wondering. Please.

Developing story lines

-- Todd Herremans isn't having nearly a good enough year to show up late for anything. Maybe it was no coincidence that the Eagles' first drive Sunday looked crisp with Nick Cole at left guard, while Herremans sat out as punishment. By the way, though, I'm not at all sure Herremans false-started on that first snap after the Brandon Jacobs fumble that gave the Birds the ball at the Giants' 8. If you break the film down frame-by-frame, it seems the official might have been confused by Herremans standing up and turning to pull to the right, where he was supposed to block linebacker Kawika Mitchell on a Brian Westbrook draw. In real time, the movement looks out of sync with the rest of the line, which is facing forward, but not when you slow it down.

-- Todd Herremans isn't having nearly a good enough year to show up late for anything. Maybe it was no coincidence that the Eagles' first drive Sunday looked crisp with Nick Cole at left guard, while Herremans sat out as punishment. By the way, though, I'm not at all sure Herremans false-started on that first snap after the Brandon Jacobs fumble that gave the Birds the ball at the Giants' 8. If you break the film down frame-by-frame, it seems the official might have been confused by Herremans standing up and turning to pull to the right, where he was supposed to block linebacker Kawika Mitchell on a Brian Westbrook draw. In real time, the movement looks out of sync with the rest of the line, which is facing forward, but not when you slow it down.

-- Jevon Kearse was unblocked, and he still couldn't do anything to prevent Eli Manning's lone touchdown pass Sunday afternoon. Kearse played very briefly, but not briefly enough.

-- Greg Lewis might have thrown downfield Sunday with more confidence than Donovan McNabb, on that flanker option that fell incomplete.

-- In two victories over the Eagles this season, eight quarters of work, the Giants' longest touchdown "drive" is 49 yards, in the Sept. 30 game. On Sunday, Eli Manning had to lead New York all of 37 yards for its only TD.

Who knew?

That you could be seventh in the NFL in offense, 10th in defense, and 5-8?

That you could be seventh in the NFL in offense, 10th in defense, and 5-8?

Obscure stat

Somehow, Donovan McNabb's 7.04 yards per attempt this season is the third-highest total of his career. To anyone watching the games, this makes no sense.

Somehow, Donovan McNabb's 7.04 yards per attempt this season is the third-highest total of his career. To anyone watching the games, this makes no sense.

Extra point

Boy, watching bum-kneed Lito Sheppard tiptoe around back there in the Birds' secondary really fills you with confidence for this week's matchup against Terrell Owens, doesn't it?

Boy, watching bum-kneed Lito Sheppard tiptoe around back there in the Birds' secondary really fills you with confidence for this week's matchup against Terrell Owens, doesn't it?

A week earlier against the Seahawks, Jim Johnson eventually took his two-time Pro Bowl corner out of the game because he couldn't seem to cut. On Sunday against the Giants, Sheppard added tackling to the list of difficult maneuvers. When his receiver wasn't Plaxico Burress on Sunday, Eli Manning threw for a total of 83 yards, yet the Eagles never seemed able to focus their resources on Burress. This week the quarterback - Tony Romo - is much better, and he has way more weapons. Last time the teams played, just in case you've forgotten, Romo sauntered into the Linc and completed 20 of 25 for 324 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 Dallas victory that wasn't really that close. Owens caught 10 passes for 174 yards.

Speaking of Sheppard, the turning point of Sunday's game might have been early. The Giants didn't get a first down on their first two series, and they faced third-and-15 on their 10 the third time out. But Sheppard gave up a first-down catch to Sinorice Moss, and then he gave the Giants another 15 yards by slamming Moss down out of bounds. The Giants drove for a field goal, and the tone of the game started to change. *