THE EAGLES aren't necessarily focusing on winning their next preseason game, Monday at New England; after all, they won the preseason opener against the Steelers that everybody was so upset about.

What they need to do is reassure themselves, give the starters a jolt of confidence in their last significant action before the real season starts, when they really do need to win.

And, yeah, they say this isn't just mid-August rhetoric, a talking point to help the time pass until the season starts.

"This is another step to go before we get the season started . . . I'm ready to test myself . . . See where our team's at, make adjustments," said defensive end Trent Cole, who didn't play in the Steelers game as he recovered from a minor shoulder problem.

Trent Cole, with 68 career sacks in seven seasons, needs to test himself?

"That's every year. I personally test myself every year. I'm not getting any younger," said Cole, who stopped by the NovaCare auditorium a little while earlier to get his picture taken with Tra Thomas, the Birds' three-time Pro Bowl left tackle who officially retired as an Eagle Thursday. "Walking out of the auditorium with Todd Herremans, I said, 'Man, our [retirement] days are nearing,' " Cole said, laughing. He turns 30 in October.

Normally, the third preseason game is the benchmark game in which starters get the most work, but this year the Eagles play their third game 4 days after the second, at Cleveland, where they also will open the season Sept. 9.

Eagles coach Andy Reid wants to show the Browns as little as possible, and he certainly won't substantially expose his starters twice in 4 days. As Reid noted Thursday, with travel demands, the team will practice only once between the New England and Cleveland games.

Reid acknowledged there will be more game-planning than for the first preseason game, though "not quite what you do for a regular-season game." Rookie quarterback Nick Foles will back up Michael Vick, with Mike Kafka's broken left hand still healing.

The opener, which the Steelers led, 13-0, at halftime before the Eagles' deep subs rallied to victory, provided lots for the starters to work on, on offense and defense. The problems started with the first-team defense repeatedly failing on third-and-long and giving up a 16-play, 9-minute, 48-second drive to open the game. The offense then entered stone cold, and stayed that way. Vick banged his thumb on center Jason Kelce's helmet, ending the starters' day after six snaps and a long gain of 5 yards.

"We want to be as precise as we can be," Vick said Thursday, echoing the words of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg earlier in the week. "Just get a feel for where we're at, most importantly. This'll be a good test, playing against a good defense. They played in the Super Bowl last year. It's an opportunity to see where we stand and how we hold up. We're certainly going to go out there and try to put some points on the board."

But as Kelce noted, because the results don't count, the points aren't the most important thing, really.

"I'd like to not go three-and-out every single series," Kelce joked, referring to the Steelers game. "I think what we want to see from an offensive standpoint is consistency. That's really what you're striving for all the time on offense, is consistently doing your job. If the defense beats us a couple plays . . . even if we don't score a touchdown, as long as we're being consistent, making the right reads, doing everything that the offense entails, I think that's what we strive for.

"Even if the defense is in a good defense for a particular play and we don't get as much as we want on it, we still want to make the right decisions. Let's say we're running an outside zone to the right; as long as we block everybody right, maybe they bring the safety down and we only get 2 or 3 yards on it. At the end of the day, we're not going to sweat that so much. We just need to make sure we're [controlling what we can control]."

Like Cole, tight end Brent Celek sat out the opener, rehabbing a minor knee problem. He is scheduled to play at New England.

"The big thing is, we need to show that we can drive the ball, score and be consistent," Celek said. "That's key . . . This is our big test."

Right tackle Todd Herremans saw the issue as "knocking out the kinks . . . there are just little, small things that right now we're not doing. Once we start doing those, it'll be a lot better.

"We know we're going to have plenty of opportunities to get out there and move the ball and score points," Herremans noted, since Reid said the starters probably will play into the third quarter. "It was definitely frustrating with our production in the first game. We don't want to start a season off like that."

Safety Nate Allen is another starter who sat out the Steelers game (hamstring) but is slated to play at New England. He said the secondary needs to show "that we're fundamentally sound. That's the main thing.

"We're just kind of working out all the kinks in the defense. We're still coming together. We just need to fly around and make plays, be fundamentally sound.

"We're treating it like a regular-season game. We're game-planning. Got a nice little setup for 'em. We're going to be focused all week."