MICHAEL VICK seems to understand the problem, at least. Whether he can really do anything to fix it in 2012 will have a lot to say about this Eagles team's long-term aspirations.

"Vitamin D is going to play a central part in my eating regimen," the Eagles' quarterback joked, the day he returned to practice from missing three games with broken ribs. Vick, who said he will play this Sunday at Miami, had been asked about the fact that he also missed three games with a rib problem in 2010. Vick's participation in games is kind of a big deal, him being the franchise QB and all.

"I just gotta take care of my body. I really didn't know I was that frail . . . That's 2 years in a row, two rib injuries, and I just can't have that," Vick said. "I've got to be out on the football field and accountable for my team. It's crazy, because we could have been in a situation where the situation is different, it's the end of the season, probably going to the playoffs, and I get hurt. I've got to make sure for the duration of the season I can keep myself healthy, throughout the rest of my career."

Unfortunately, there was no follow-up to that question. Nobody referenced Vick's refusal to learn to slide, or the way he often holds the ball too long in the pocket, seeming to take a hit on almost every throw, even when the offensive line is doing a pretty good job. This, as much as his turnover-causing over-aggressiveness with the ball, fuels doubt about whether the Eaglers can really win with Vick, can depend on their $80 million QB.

As usual, Vick was speaking yesterday to a squirming, buzzing throng of reporters crowded around his locker stall, the deeply stacked scribes straining to hear the QB over random shouting from teammates going to lift weights or to the showers. The next query was about how crazy it is, with the other NFC East teams all losing Sunday, that the Eagles actually are still alive in the playoff race, for another week, anyway.

Maybe that was a follow-up of a sort. Because had Vick been able to go last Thursday in Seattle, and hadn't thrown four interceptions the way backup Vince Young did, the Eagles might be really, seriously in the playoff race right now, instead of clinging to ridiculous, believe-it-or-not scenarios.

"That's why we've got to keep our heads up high, we've got to keep playing hard," Vick said, grabbing the lifeline the questioner threw him and pulling on it for all it was worth. "Keep trusting and believing in one another, keep believing in our coaches and their philosophies that's being taught here, and make the most out of this. We've still got opportunity, after everything we've been through, even if I think our situation shuld have been different - and we all know that - but it is what it is. We've got a chance and we're going to play it out.

"I wish I could have been out there the last 3 weeks, but it just hasn't panned out that way. We've got to keep our heads up and moving in the right direction."

That was the refrain across the NovaCare locker room - support for Andy Reid and even for embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, from his guys, and holding on to that last shred of hope.

Asked about speculation surrounding Reid, with the team 4-8, Vick said, "I'm not concerned about coach Reid's situation. I think everything's going to be just fine. We all know - we had our bad breaks this year, to be honest. Let's be candid right now. We've had our bad breaks, games we should have won. We've put ourselves in awesome positions to be in the ballgame, and then just couldn't pull it out, whether on offense or defense. Honestly, I just don't think coach Reid had anything to do with that. We've all watched the games, we've seen it, we were all a part of it, we know the reasons why we didn't pull them out, and it wasn't coach's fault.

"To hear [the speculation about Reid] really upsets me . . . I just know everything's going to be fine."

Wideout Jason Avant said having Vick back "means a whole bunch to us. That's our starting quarterback, and everybody knows it."

Tight end Brent Celek might have had the best take on the faint flicker of playoff hope arising from the NFC East's lost weekend.

"It's good, but I think we've got to take care of our own stuff. We've got to start winning games before we can worry about other people," Celek said. "But it still gives us a chance, which is good."

Middle linebacker Jamar Chaney said he supports Castillo, and thinks the Eagles had the right scheme to stop Marshawn Lynch (148 yards on 22 carries) and the Seahawks on Thursday.

"We got confidence in him and ourselves," Chaney said. "It's just a matter of us going out there and executing . . . We had the right plan. He broke a lot of tackles. That's not on the d-coordinator."

Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said: "You've got to believe. You've got to try to believe, you've got to go out there and try to execute. I think the execution is our biggest flaw right now, we're just not executing the things we're supposed to . . . That's been the biggest problem for us."

Nebulously sourced reports appeared over the weekend in the national media indicating the Eagles will retain Reid for a 14th season next year. It's hard to believe anyone knows that right now, that if the final four games look like the Seattle loss, management will just shrug its shoulders and ask Andy if he minds trying again on the defensive-coordinator hiring.

Vick, of course, is tied to Reid, who gave him his chance to return to the NFL, then staked the future of the team on Vick instead of Kevin Kolb. Vick was asked if he thought these final 4 weeks would be a test of his leadership.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think these last four games are going to be vital for myself and for everybody else on this team who considers themselves to be a leader."

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LesBowen.