MICHAEL VICK and Asante Samuel, fine. They need to rest up because they are the Eagles' most important offensive and defensive players and because they both are battling injuries, Vick a quad contusion and Samuel a balky knee.

But that's it. Every other able body should play, even given the complications of this short week, even given that the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys is meaningless.

There should be no rest for the dreary - and if they weren't hurt, that would go for Vick and Samuel as well.

In case anybody has forgotten, the Eagles have played 7 1/2 lousy quarters out of their last eight. Only the sheer athletic brilliance of Vick in the final 8 minutes of the game against the Giants, followed by DeSean Jackson's magical punt return, separate today from a nine-alarm fire.

Fading, lost focus, call it whatever you want - but it is happening, and it is something that never happens to Andy Reid teams. In a dozen seasons, that Tuesday-night flop against the Minnesota Vikings might have been the single-worst late-season performance by one of his teams when you factor in the quality of the Eagles, the quality of the opponent, the fact that it was at home and the obvious incentives for victory. That even includes the 24-0 loss last year at Dallas.

It is all very disconcerting and it is the reason why Reid should abandon his put-them-in-bubble-wrap philosophy. In past seasons, in similar situations at the end of the year, Reid would play nobody in a meaningless game - and I mean nobody. Famously, in 2004, he pretty much sat everybody for two straight games at the end of the season - and the team's trip to the Super Bowl vindicated his uncommon caution.

But there are plenty of coaches who don't buy into the philosophy of resting and protecting their teams. There have been many coaches down through the years who have tried to win every game, who believed that winning is a habit that needs to be cultivated - who would play their starters for a good, hard half in this kind of a situation, if not more.

Mike Ditka was like that. Bill Parcells was like that. Bill Belichick has been like that, and he got bit last year when wide receiver Wes Welker tore up a knee in the season finale.

Andy Reid never has been like that - but this time, it really is different.

"There are two different philosophies there and we've discussed that in past years," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "Both have worked and both haven't. That's just a personal, philosophical approach that you're going to take. One approach or the other, it's just that simple."

And your philosophy, Marty?

"It doesn't matter because Andy will make that choice here, yeah," Mornhinweg said, smiling.

This is a young team and it reacted Tuesday night like a young team. Whether it was the 2-day snow delay, or taking the struggling Vikings lightly, or the fact that they had already clinched the NFC East, the Eagles played a flat, unfocused game on a night that really did matter because of the first-round playoff bye that was still available.

Again, this kind of thing had really never happened to a Reid team before. Yesterday, Mornhinweg talked about an inattention to detail by the offense. Special-teams coordinator Bobby April said, on his units, "It was a disappointing game primarily because of the energy level."

And as for the defense, coordinator Sean McDermott said, "No. 1, we've got to play with more intensity and fire. And then, No. 2, we've got to come out and play smart football and stop shooting ourselves in the foot. And then, third, techniques need to be polished up."

About the fire . . .

"It should not be an issue," McDermott said.

But why is it?

"That's what we're getting to the bottom of," he said.

The only way to do it is to prepare to play a football game, and then to play it. Of course, you run a risk. But Shady McCoy could use more work on blitz pickup, and DeSean Jackson could use more work on his persistence, and Jamar Chaney needs all of the experience he can get at middle linebacker, and somebody needs to sort out what's about to happen at right cornerback.

As a group, they need to demonstrate some sharpness again - for at least a half. If you can't simulate playoff intensity in a meaningless game, and you can't, you can at least demand a renewed attention to detail. To rest everyone for the entire game and to believe that this sharpness will all magically return in the wild-card game would be a profound act of faith.

This group doesn't deserve it. *

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