John Smallwood | Right now, Birds a bunch of sad sacks

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - If you'd care to look on the bright side, the Phillies were in much more dire straits when they trailed the New York Mets by seven games with 17 remaining.

Look where they are this morning - champions of the National League East and hosting a playoff series starting on Wednesday.

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Eagles' Donovan McNabb loses ball as he's hit from behind by Giants' Osi Umenyiora.

Heck, it won't even take the greatest

collapse in the history of the sport for the Eagles to get out the hole they've dug for

themselves

after last night's 16-3 loss to the New York Giants.

It is, however, going to take some Phillies' type rallying for the Eagles to become the factor a lot of people predicted they would

before this NFL season started.

This is bad, folks, not done, dead and buried bad, but bad nonetheless.

Whatever psychological lifts the Eagles got from last week's whipping of the Detroit Lions, things came crashing back to earth last night in the Meadowlands.

Right now, the only thing the Eagles' win over Detroit means is that they won't be winless

going into this week's bye, but

other than that, all the bad things that would've existed had they been 0-3 are there at 1-3.

With a quarter of the season done, the Birds are alone in last place in the NFC East - three games behind the undefeated Dallas Cowboys.

All three of their losses are

in the National Football Conference. The only teams with a worse record in the NFC are the winless New Orleans Saints and

St. Louis Rams.

All of which means, the Eagles have a hill to climb to get back

into the playoff picture.

And remember, this was supposed to be the soft part of the Eagles' schedule. Most would've expected that the Eagles' record would be the exact opposite

after four games.

Certainly, the Green Bay Packers, who are still undefeated,

and the Washington Redskins

appear to be better than originally expected.

But this really seems to be more about overvaluing the Eagles' capabilities than undervaluing other teams, especially on offense.

After a third inept performance in four games, the Eagles' offense isn't struggling. It's just bad.

The way things stand; the 56-point explosion against the

Lions appears to be an aberration - a one-Sunday experience when all things just fell together in the right way.

The Eagles' offense carried no momentum up the Jersey Turnpike.

Certainly, last night, there were mitigating circumstances with running back Brian Westbrook and left tackle William

Thomas scratched from the

lineup because of injuries.

But that only slightly qualifies the pathetic performance.

No matter who is missing, there is no way quarterback Donovan McNabb should get sacked 12 times and hit hard at least a half-dozen more times.

Not only did the Giants tie an NFL record for sacks, but also defensive tackle Osi Umenyiora had a half-dozen by himself.

The Eagles are still waiting for 2006 second-round draft pick Winston Justice, who replaced Thomas at left tackle, to block somebody.

Just like the Phillies, it would be foolish to write off the Eagles at this stage.

In 2003, the Birds overcame a 0-2 start and went on to win 12 games.

Last year, they were 5-6, before winning five straight games and capturing the NFC East.

History shows that Andy Reid's teams have had incredible success coming out of bye weeks, and frankly, that's what this team is going to have to pin its hopes on if it's going to have a chance

to salvage this season.

After having this week off, the Eagles return to the Meadowlands on Oct. 14 to play the New York Jets. Then they play host to the Chicago Bears and travel to the Minnesota Vikings.

If there is going to be a regrouping, it's likely going to have to be in that three-game span

because after that things get

considerably more difficult.

November starts with a game against Dallas and begins a five-game string that also includes games at Washington and New England and one against Seattle.

Right now, despite their 1-3 start, the Eagles don't need a miracle similar to the one the Phillies pulled off to win the

National League East.

But unless they get things turned around immediately,

they soon will. And, considering this is Philadelphia, miracles in sports are things that have historically been in short supply. *

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smallwj@phillynews.com.

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