John Smallwood | In this corner, A.J.'s the way

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - There shouldn't even be a debate.

Andy Reid needs to reconsider his proclamation immediately after the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots, 31-28, that Donovan McNabb will be back at quarterback if he's healthy enough on Sunday against the Seattle

20071126_dn_0js3k7dl
A.J. Feeley walks off field after 31-28 loss to Patriots. Feeley should get the next start, vs. Seahawks.

Seahawks.

That's not a smart move, not with what is at stake, not after the way A.J. Feeley played against the Patriots; the way he played a week earlier against the Miami Dolphins.

McNabb has had 10 games to figure things out, knock off the rust, recover from injury, regain his form.

For whatever reason, it hasn't happened. The Eagles were lucky to be 5-5 in those starts.

Except for that spectacular game against the Detroit Lions and some flashes here and there, McNabb has rarely looked like an upper-echelon quarterback, much less the one who made five Pro Bowls in his first seven

seasons.

And now, with five games remaining and the Eagles having no margin for error, everything has to be about playing the players who give you the best chance to make the playoffs.

I even surprise myself to say this, but the guy at quarterback at this particular moment is Feeley.

This isn't just a knee-jerk reaction to Feeley completing 27 of 42 passes for 345 yards with three touchdowns against mighty New England, although that does provide a huge item of support.

This really is as much about what McNabb hasn't done as it is about what Feeley has done in the last two games.

Before McNabb went down with a twisted ankle and bruised thumb last week against the winless Dolphins, he had completed just 3 of 11 passes for 34 yards with two interceptions.

McNabb was as bad as his 0.4 passer rating indicated. And while he hasn't been that horrible the entire season, he has not played all that well.

In relief against Miami, Feeley went 13-for-19 for 116 yards with a touchdown. He managed the game and led the Birds to a come-from-behind, 17-7 victory.

Against a Patriots defense that was ranked fourth in the NFL against the pass, Feeley went throw-for-throw against likely most valuable player Tom Brady, and held his own.

There's no doubt that Feeley's three interceptions - the first resulted in the game's first score, the second came when the Eagles were in range of a game-tying field goal attempt and the third came with 11 seconds left - were costly, but no more so than McNabb's numerous miscues this season.

Still, Feeley did tons more to almost get the Birds a victory than he did to prevent one.

There were times when I believed the same thing about McNabb, but now isn't one of them.

I'm not savvy enough to know if McNabb is done for good or just needs more time to get things back together.

What I do know is that with the exception of the aforementioned Detroit game, this offense under Feeley in the last two games has been more consistent and efficient than at any other point this season.

For whatever reason, things have run smoother and with more rhythm when directed by Feeley.

After Feeley threw an

interception that Asante Samuel returned 40 yards for a touchdown on the third snap of the game, what I saw was that things didn't snowball downhill the way they have too many other times this season.

The Birds snapped back, took the lead twice and made New England fight tooth-and-nail to stay undefeated.

This is starting to look so much like last season, when the sputtering Birds pulled things back together after Jeff Garcia replaced an injured McNabb.

The Eagles won their final five games and made the playoffs.

Now, once again, the Eagles are 5-6 and probably need to win their final five to return to the playoffs.

The only difference is that McNabb isn't out for the season.

I can't see why that should matter.

The good things McNabb has done in the past are irrelevant to the situation at hand.

This isn't about loyalty or protecting some guy's ego. It's about making the playoffs.

If Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard can be replaced as starters because it makes the defense better, then McNabb can sit if it helps the offense.

Reid can't stay the way he's leaning. He owes it to this team to find out if Feeley can keep this momentum rolling, maybe just for one more half, maybe all the way to the playoffs. *

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.