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At 9 a.m. Friday, Philadelphia Eagles coach Rich Kotite officially answered the question that an entire, football-mad city had debated for three days.

And the answer was . . . the kid.Brad Goebel, the 23-year-old free-agent rookie from Baylor, will start Sunday's road game against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rather than 36-year-old veteran Pat Ryan.

The Eagles' third starting quarterback this season is as green as his helmet. Goebel has played in only two of the Eagles' first five games. He has been on the field for just 3 minutes, 50 seconds, has taken only 16 snaps from center, and has thrown only 10 passes in his National Football League career.

Friday, Kotite said, "I wish it didn't come down to this. But this is reality, and it did. We've got to do it, and I think he can do it."

In Kotite's view, it made more sense to start Goebel because Ryan has much more experience coming off the bench, and because Goebel, a cool Texan with a quick draw, can get the team off to a faster start than Ryan.

Kotite appeared to have tipped his hand Thursday when he announced that quarterbacks coach Zeke Bratkowski would come down from the coaches' booth to be on the sideline to signal in plays during the game. Ryan does not know the Eagles' system for signaling plays, so the decision seemed to indicate that Goebel would be the starter.

"I feel comfortable knowing that Goebel's going to start," Kotite said, "and (Ryan) can come in and do an excellent job. I don't feel as comfortable with Ryan starting and having `Gabe' come into a difficult situation. There are a couple of factors involved.

"It's not a knock on either one of them. It's what I think is the smoothest thing to do. And I think Gabe, with the things we're going to do with him, will be effective. But if we don't have pass protection, I don't care who's back there. If we can't run the ball, it doesn't matter who's playing quarterback. There are a lot of other things I'm hoping we're going to improve."

Kotite did not exactly have a lot of options. Randall Cunningham was lost to the team for the season with an injury to his left knee in the opener Sept. 1, and Jim McMahon went down with strained ligaments in his right knee in the first quarter of the Eagles' embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Washington Redskins on Monday night.

Ryan took McMahon's place Monday and played poorly. Ryan completed only 4 of 14 passes for 24 yards, with three interceptions. It was his first action in nearly two years, and that it came in front of a national television audience only amplified every mistake he made.

"I had a rough night," Ryan said. "Stuff happens. It's not the first rough night I've had. It just happened in front of the whole world, unfortunately."

Goebel, who only six weeks ago beat out Don McPherson in a much-publicized battle for the third-string quarterback job, promised not to overextend himself Sunday. Those expecting him to turn busted plays into long gains - a la Cunningham - will be disappointed, he said.

"I'm not going to go out there and be a hero, and make the great plays and do the things Randall did," Goebel said. "I'm just going to go out there, and I'm going to take what the defense gives me and hit my short passes."