SAN FRANCISCO - The education of Kevin Kolb continues. It is what this season was supposed to be about, back when. We thought he would get the ball out quickly and accurately, but we did not know when he would learn to be a winner. That was going to be the process that consumed our attention.

It isn't like that anymore; long story. But because Michael Vick is injured, Kolb is getting a chance to play again. Last night against the 49ers, with a full week of practice snaps and a promise of nothing more than the day, Kolb played an excellent first half and a good second half, nursing a 17-10 halftime lead into a 27-24 victory.

What it means for the future is known to only one man, the guy in all-black on the Eagles' sideline - and Andy Reid has defined mercurial so far this season. But it seems fairly obvious that the more Kolb plays, the better he gets. He had a shaky first half in the opener against Green Bay before suffering a concussion. He had a much better game last week in defeat against Washington. He had a fine game overall last night.

This thing isn't a staircase, obviously. There isn't going to be an uninterrupted climb for Kolb. It doesn't work that way and nobody should ever have expected that it would. But there is clearly something to work with here.

"I think he will continue to do that,"

Reid said. "With a young quarterback, that's what you're going to see - I mentioned that from the beginning. There's going to be a maturation process that takes place when he plays. You just don't step in, in 1 year, and set the world on fire. That's not how this thing works. That's the reason why Michael moved into that spot - it cuts that maturation process down when another guy is playing as well as Michael is playing.

"The kid stepped up, played well today, did a heck of a job. He had an opportunity to prepare all week, and he was in the building long hours. He worked very hard and his teammates believed in him, which is a huge thing - a huge thing. He went out and performed on national TV in a road game, which he hadn't done before, and did a nice job."

Here's the problem, though: It is Vick's job now and it should be Vick's job when his rib cartilage is healed. If Reid were to do another pirouette in midseason, he really might screw himself into the ground. He cannot change again and he says he won't. Last night, Reid said, "Michael is still the starting quarterback so we won't get that controversy going there."

But now the dilemma is plain. If Vick plays well enough to allow the Eagles to make a long playoff run, it is hard to believe they wouldn't re-sign him, in which case Kolb is going to have to be traded. But if Vick doesn't play well enough, then the Eagles have just wasted what should have been Kolb's season of development.

How Reid juggles it all will continue to be the story of 2010. But in the meantime, Kolb has managed to insulate himself from the winds and the controversies and gone about the business of getting better. His numbers last night: 21-for-31 for 253 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions. His passer rating was 103.3.

"I thought, all in all, he managed the game well," Reid said. "He was accurate. There was no hesitation putting the ball in tight holes. He did it with conviction. I thought he just stepped up and played like we know Kevin can play."

The knock against Kolb last week was that he threw too many safe checkdowns and didn't complete any balls down the field against the Redskins. The criticism was fair and it was unfair. Because, yes, you have to make a few big plays in a game or you aren't likely to win - and Kolb didn't make them and the Eagles didn't win. But, at the same time, to throw deep balls into that kind of coverage is to play into the opponent's hands.

Against the Niners, Kolb completed four passes of 20 yards or longer, including a 41-yarder on which Jeremy Maclin made a nice adjustment on an underthrown ball.

Was the difference confidence or coverage?

"It's coverage," Kolb said. "I'll be totally honest: There were maybe two last week that I wished I had forced a little bit more. But besides that, that's what they were giving me. As a quarterback, you have to take what they give you and move the chains, and that's what we were trying to do."

Kolb was very sharp, right from the start. After the Niners scored on the game's opening drive, the Eagles answered right back. Kolb was 6-for-6 on the 75-yard drive, survived a holding penalty that nullified one score, and finished up with a really veteran-ish kind of effort, escaping from the pass rush, rolling to the right, keeping the play alive and then rifling an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek.

He had a nice, easy rhythm going, and it continued through halftime. He did make one significant error, losing a fumble on a sack that had King Dunlap's fingerprints all over it. Dunlap replaced injured left tackle Jason Peters in the first quarter and, well, struggled. Anyway, Kolb probably could have thrown the ball away if he'd been more aware. But the 49ers missed a field goal try on their resulting possession, so there was no harm done.

The second half was not as easy for Kolb but it was handled well. The Eagles had a terrible time converting on third down, and did not score an offensive touchdown in the second half, but Kolb was decisive and he was accurate for the most part, the stuff he was supposed to be. He even scrambled 19 yards and dived for a big first down near the end of the third quarter.

"As a quarterback, you just try to find that comfort zone and that rhythm," Kolb said. "I did feel very comfortable out there today, but there's been times where I felt that in the last two games as well. Not a huge difference, but obviously a little better."

Again: There is something to build on here.

But to what end?

Only Andy Reid knows.

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