THE HOLE is deeper now for the Eagles, and the crisis of confidence is more profound, and there is no better symbol of their aimlessness, and lack of stomach, than that Ronnie Brown play yesterday at the goal line when he tried to throw a pass as he was being tackled and ended up fumbling the ball instead.

The play was conceived out of fear. It was executed out of idiocy. Even on a day when they blew a 20-point lead and lost to the San Francisco 49ers by 24-23 - a day when their defense was again revealed to be as hollow physically as it is emotionally, and a day when their rookie kicker missed a pair of field goals - it was this play, this silly play, that best described the Eagles' current state.

Second quarter, Eagles up by a touchdown. Third-and-goal for the Eagles from inside the 1-yard line. Their best offensive players are Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, and they also have Jason Avant and Steve Smith, guys with reputations for getting things done in tight spaces. Best as I can tell, out of all of them, only Vick was on the field. One way to go is to put some of them out there, spread the formation out, and use these weapons in some creative fashion. But, no.

Point: They seem to have given up on Vick throwing the ball into the end zone from in close.

Instead, the Eagles have two tight ends in the game. They have tackle Todd Herremans eligible as a third tight end. They have fullback Owen Schmitt on the field along with Brown, their sturdiest halfback. They have personnel in the game that makes sense if you are going to try to power the ball into the end zone, which is what 99 percent of NFL teams do in that situation and with that personnel. But, no.

Point: The Eagles do not have the interior beef to play power football and they know it.

So, instead, they design a play that goes for trickeration with the blocking scheme, with right guard Kyle DeVan pulling to the left side to pick up Parys Haralson, the 49ers' linebacker. And, well, DeVan tripped over the crush of bodies and landed in the backfield - right in the place where Brown was heading.

And so, with Brown stopped in his tracks and DeVan on the ground, Haralson has a free shot at Brown. Haralson is in the process of throwing him to the ground when, to the surprise of everyone, Brown decides to try to throw the ball to some unknown person. It goes backward, which means it is a fumble. The 49ers recover.

It was a profoundly stupid play by Brown, but profoundly stupid plays happen every week in the NFL. What made this a complete and total howler was Brown's acknowledgement after the game that it was really supposed to be a pass play all along.

"It was a designed play," Brown said. "I've just got to make a better decision with the ball. No matter if it's a pass or a run, I've just got to make a better decision. I was trying to out-think myself a little bit. It was a pass play and I was thinking, once the guy slipped off, just try to throw the ball away and give us another chance for fourth down - not take a loss where we can go for it on fourth down, if possible. I've just got to make a better decision with the ball."

So it was designed to throw the ball?

"Yeah," Brown said.

Later, Brown would use the term "run-pass option" to describe what was going on - and, well, whatever. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wasn't around after the game to clarify. The point is, if that is the way you have to attack the goal line, you have nothing. I can respect 513 yards of total offense, and Vick yesterday was tremendous, but if all you have is gimmicks on third-and-goal, gadgets and prayers in short-yardage, you are not winning any Super Bowls.

It is why the water rises around Andy Reid this morning. He built this shell of a defense. He invented Juan Castillo as his defensive coordinator. He shrunk his offensive line to sizes unseen around here in forever. This is his, all of it, and it is a burgeoning disaster.

There is time to fix it, and we all know that. But the Eagles are playing scared and they are playing stupid, and the combination is fatal.

Scared and stupid; fourth-and-goal.