Eagles survive 49ers

LeSean McCoy celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

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.

Here’s the problem, though: it is Vick’s job now and it should be Vick’s job. If Reid were to do another pirouette in mid-season, he really might screw himself into the ground. He cannot change again. When Vick is healthy, he does have to get the job back.

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 to a new deal -- 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, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions. His passer rating was 103.3.

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.

Anyway, the question this week was how the 49ers would scheme against Kolb. The Redskins played the two-deep zone and didn’t blitz and still managed to get plenty of pressure. The 49ers looked at that and kind of/sort of did a lot of the same things. And they got a good amount of pressure, too -- mostly because King Dunlap had so much trouble filling in at left tackle for Jason Peters, who left the game in the first half with a knee injury.

But the thing was, the play-calling was better this week (third- and fourth-and-short being the exceptions). You have to run the ball against the kind of defense that the 49ers were playing much of the time, and the Eagles did; Shady McCoy was dynamic despite playing with a broken rib. You also need to design more short-passing plays that make the opponent pay for his softness, and the Eagles did that, too.

And 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, 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 Dunlap’s fingerprints all over it. He 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. They had a terrible time converting on third down, and did not score a 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 dove for a big first down near the end of the third quarter.

Again: there is something to build on here.

But to what end? Only Andy Reid knows.