John Smallwood | Birds are running out of time

IT'S NOT A lack of urgency from the Eagles.

Head coach Andy Reid said his players have faced "the reality of their record."

Donovan McNabb and the Eagles must right themselves Sunday, or their playoff chances are gone.

Still, for some reason, you get the feeling that the people at the NovaCare Complex think they have a little more time to figure things out before the season crashes down on them for good.

"The good thing about this league is that there are 16 guaranteed games," quarterback Donovan McNabb said of his team's ability to forget Sunday's devastating closing-seconds loss to the Chicago Bears. "So, you have to have a short memory, be able to put that behind you and move on."

At 2-4 overall, 0-2 and in last place in the NFC East and 1-4 in the NFC, the Eagles don't have time to move on.

They must arrive Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Eagles must have all the kinks worked out, all the problems solved, all the questions answered.

The reality of their situation doesn't allow them any more time to figure things out.

If they lose at Minnesota, those 16 guaranteed games McNabb mentioned are the only ones the Eagles will see this season.

Asked whether the Eagles felt a sense of urgency, McNabb responded, "Absolutely."

But when you listen to them talk about the problems that led to such a dreadful start, the Eagles still talk in terms of things working themselves out.

"I think it's important to build on it, that we actually got into the end zone," Reid said of the momentum his struggling offense can take from its fourth-quarter touchdown against Chicago. "We did move the ball downfield.

"I think those are positive things that you can build on. You take those experiences and you keep working on them and get better at what you're doing."

That reasoning worked when the Birds were 0-2. It might even apply had the Eagles not blown the Bears game in the final 2 minutes.

But in their current circumstances, the Eagles can't afford simply to "get better." They must be at their best, and stay that way for the rest of the season.

There is no more time for McNabb to still figure out what he can and cannot do while recovering from his knee injury.

There is no more time to determine whether the receivers can't get enough separation or the quarterback can't release the ball quickly enough.

There is no more time for Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to keep forgetting that Brian Westbrook is their most effective weapon and that giving the running game more chances is the best way to solve their red-zone miseries.

"I think we have the ability to run the ball more," Westbrook said, "but [Mornhinwig] is calling the plays for a reason. He is calling the plays because he thinks we can have success against certain defenses.

"We've had success throwing the ball down there, and hopefully we'll start to have a little bit more success."

Wherever the "better positions" are that the coaches need to put the players in must be found Sunday.

Because if Reid and McNabb and the rest of the Eagles are talking about still figuring things out after losing to the Vikings, those solutions might as well wait until next season.

A lot of people have said 9-7 should be good enough to reach the playoffs.

The problem is that the Birds are in 13th place in the NFC. Ten conference teams have three or more victories, and the other three NFC East teams have at least four.

Only the Eagles, Atlanta (1-6 overall) and St. Louis (0-7) have fewer than two NFC victories.

In the event of a tie, the Birds likely will lose virtually every playoff tiebreaker.

And if nine is the magic number in the NFC, the Eagles probably must win 10 games. They must finish 8-2, leaving them with nearly no margin for error. There's no time left to figure out what is wrong. Come Sunday, the problems must be solved. *

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