THE HAPPIEST LITTLE 7-8 football team in the NFL is skipping toward the finish line. It is all very odd.

The Eagles, accustomed to winning divisions and winning playoff games, are acting like a perennially lousy team getting its first sniff of .500. So many people are so very happy. If you ask them the question about what they might have squandered this season, they say the right words and express the proper emotions, speaking of frustration and regret. But it passes quickly.

From the head coach on down, the tone has shifted with the swiftness of a summer cold front. They are all spinning for 2008 now, and spinning furiously. They are grasping on to their two most recent wins, against bored Dallas and battered New Orleans, as if they were magic beads that rendered the previous 13 games irrelevant.

Everyone looks forward. The notion that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them is entirely foreign to the Eagles, it seems. The 2007 season was never even given a decent burial.

Instead, they are attempting to create momentum now for something that does not start for 8 months. Rather than rest people in an entirely meaningless exercise on Sunday, everybody is playing, it seems.

"A lot of it is the players' attitudes toward things right now," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "They've got a good little thing going right now, and they want to be out on that field. They want to play. It's an interesting situation that we're in right now. We are playing good football, probably as good as anybody in the NFC right now. I don't want to stop that. I want to get the guys that want to play, get them out there and ready to go. I want to give them an opportunity to finish this thing strong. If it carries over a bit, it carries over. Let's finish it on a positive note."

There was a time, back when the Eagles were good, that Reid never worried about dissipating momentum, and rested most everyone in the meaningless week (or, sometimes, weeks) leading up to playoff games. Now, he is playing everybody in an attempt to nurture something for September.

It is different, very different, and it speaks to the fragility of the current situation. Starting with the quarterback, there apparently is a confidence-building effort being made here now that the games don't mean anything anymore. It goes beyond that to the whole team, though. All you have to do is listen lately to Reid.

First, he talks about injuries as if they have been the reason for 7-8. He contradicts himself a lot - because they are as hurt now as they've been - but there you have it.

Then he talks about how the Eagles are playing "probably as good as anybody in the NFC right now." And that they would have been a tough out for somebody in playoffs, had they made it, because, "Right now, we're playing good football and very competitive football. I'd put us against anybody really the last few weeks, or the last 5 or 6 weeks here."

They are 2-3 in the last 5 weeks, 3-3 in the last 6 weeks. There have been complications and explanations, certainly - starting with A.J. Feeley and all of those interceptions. But this embrace of failure - or, rather, this mining of heaps of failure for nuggets of hope - is fascinating to watch.

The other day, cornerback Sheldon Brown was quoted in and the Wilmington News Journal as saying that the team has played tight until the last two games. He said: "It's a trickle-down effect. If the coaches feel tight, it trickles down to the players. They're like: 'Oh, I can't make a mistake. I can't make a mistake.'

"Now the coaches are relaxed, the players are relaxed and we're having fun playing and that's how it's always been since I've been here. I don't know why it wasn't that way from the beginning."

It is hard to know whether Brown's observation is gospel or not. They had freewheeling, fun games against Detroit and New England this season, too. From a distance, it appeared the quarterback was tight more than anything.

But not now. The Buffalo Bills and the league's 27th-ranked pass defense awaits - and everything is beautiful, in its own way. So, .500 or bust. *

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