Wade Phillips laughed at the question.

The Dallas Cowboys' coach has never won a playoff game, so it's only natural that in his eyes, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, winner of nine playoff contests, has already established his greatness.

"It's only a big game if you lose," Phillips said, well aware of his sarcasm. "He's won a lot of big games, and he's won a lot of big games this year. There are a lot of big games in this league, and he has won 11 of them this year."

There's truth to that statement.

John Madden, who lost five AFL or AFC championship games before finally winning a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders, put it like this: "You will hear people say you can't win the big one, but you have to win a lot of big ones to get to the big one."

Madden, however, also said this: "Your last game is the one you have to live with. You keep hearing that and you just learn from it. What I learned is that winning the division doesn't mean anything and winning a playoff game doesn't mean anything.

"It's winning the Super Bowl that matters. You have to remember that at the end there's only one team left standing, and all the others are thrown into the heap as losers."

This is all relevant because, 11 wins aside, the Eagles' truly big games lie ahead, beginning with Sunday's meeting against Phillips' team at Cowboys Stadium.

"It's an exciting time," McNabb said before practice yesterday. "I think it comes at a great time for us because, leading into the playoffs, we want to make sure that we are clicking on all cylinders - and what better stage than to play in Dallas against one of our top rivals and for a lot on the line?"

If the Eagles win, they claim the NFC East title and a bye week as the second seed in the conference.

Like it or not, this is the time of year when most Hall of Fame quarterbacks stamp their tickets to Canton, and right now, McNabb's bus probably would stop in Akron.

McNabb's 9-6 playoff record is superior to the 0-4 mark Phillips has compiled as a coach and the 0-3 record of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. McNabb's postseason numbers are certainly respectable, too. He has an 80.8 passer rating, with 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

By comparison, Brett Favre, considered a Hall of Fame cinch, is 12-10 in the postseason, with an 85.2 passer rating. He has thrown 39 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions. The big difference is that Favre has won two NFC championship games and a Super Bowl.

Those top-tier games have mostly left McNabb with a hollow feeling.

McNabb, 33, is 8-1 in NFC wild-card and divisional playoff games, with an 86.4 passer rating. He has completed 61.3 percent of his passes in those games, and the Eagles have averaged 26.4 points.

When the stakes have risen to the level of the conference championship or Super Bowl, however, McNabb's record is 1-5 and his passer rating just 72.9. His completion percentage in those games is 57.3, and he has thrown nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions. The Eagles have averaged just 18.3 points in those games.

The Eagles, of course, are not playing in the Super Bowl this week, and McNabb left tire tracks on the Cowboys quite a few times at old Texas Stadium. The Eagles are happy he's on their side in this showdown at Dallas' new palatial digs.

"It's great to have Donovan there," running back Brian Westbrook said. "He's a guy that we know is going to come up big in the big situations. . . . Any time you have a guy like that on your side, you know that you have a chance to win the football game."

Phillips said the McNabb he had seen this season wasn't all that different from the one he had seen in the past.

"Same as I saw last year, the year before, and the year before that," Phillips said. "The guy is a great quarterback. He's a winner, he makes plays, and he's got some weapons that he hasn't had in past years, and you can see the result."

Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said the major difference between McNabb now and in the past was the number of weapons surrounding him.

"In 2004, he had T.O., who obviously was one of the best weapons in the game," Trotter said, referring to Terrell Owens. "But now, he has more. When you have more weapons like we do, the defense can't come out and try to scheme on one guy."

Maybe that's the formula that will finally keep McNabb and the Eagles from being thrown into the heap with the rest of the losers after the Super Bowl is played in Miami.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.