MICHAEL VICK'S rib soreness kept the Eagles' quarterback on the sideline yesterday, as the Birds began preparations for Sunday's visit from the New York Jets. Eagles coach Andy Reid said he expects Vick to be able to play, but, speaking before practice, he also seemed to think Vick might practice.

Obviously, Vick's absence from a midweek practice isn't the end of the world, but it seemed an appropriate metaphor for his season. The biggest focus, when blame is calibrated for this 5-8 year, has to be offensive-line-coach-turned-defensive-coordinator Juan Castillo (along with Reid, who gave Castillo that job). Right after that comes Vick, with his 12 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions, 78.9 passer rating, three complete games missed and two fatal fourth-quarter absences because of injury.

You could argue that Vick has deployed better weapons this season than Donovan McNabb ever commanded in 11 years as the Eagles' QB, and that if McNabb had ever put up numbers like this, No. 5 jerseys would be burning on every street corner.

In fact, McNabb had a passer rating higher than 78.9 every year from 2001 through 2009, his last season with the Birds. He's had 1 year that looks like Vick's 2011 - his 2010 season, which got him benched in Washington and traded in the offseason, after he completed 58.3 percent of his passes, with 14 TDs and 15 INTs, for a 77.1 rating. McNabb's passer rating before he got benched and released in Minnesota this year: 82.9.

The Eagles don't routinely make players who don't practice available to the media, so there were no Vick interviews yesterday, even though the starting QB for the coming week's game usually talks on Wednesday.

Had he talked, Vick might have been asked about how it feels to have the season on his shoulders, against a really tough defense, in front of a Lincoln Financial Field crowd that is more than a little miffed about how Vick has played this season, and about the team's incomprehensible 1-5 home record.

Vick came back from the 3-week rib-injury absence Sunday at Miami and the Eagles won, but it wasn't because of the QB. He was 15-for-30 for only 208 yards, his first touchdown pass since October, a terrible interception and a 69.9 rating. Vick had four passes blocked and was under constant pressure from the Miami defense.

"I think he's been hit a lot this season," center Jason Kelce said yesterday. "Part of that's on him, part of it was on us, earlier in the season. Last week, we got him hit a little too much. It's tough to say [why his season has been such a struggle]. I still love Mike; I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league, regardless of what the statistics say.

"He is still sore. I was talking to him about it [on Tuesday]. He's taken a lot of shots; he extends plays, that's always been his M.O., extending the play, making something happen . . . Sometimes you're going to take some beatings. Early on in the year, we got him hit way too much . . . There's only so many hits a guy can take in a year."

The issue with Vick on Sunday, and with the Eagles' offense all year, really, was inconsistency. The Birds scored 24 points in 9 minutes, 50 seconds during the second quarter at Miami, then the offense never came close to scoring again. In fact, their offense is the mirror opposite of the Jets' - Mark Sanchez has had his struggles, but the Jets capitalize on opportunities (best red-zone offense in the NFL) and don't need to pile up yards to score points. The Eagles have the NFL's fourth-ranked offense, by yards per game, but are 15th in points per game. The Jets are 25th in yards, sixth in points.

"It wasn't a complete mess," left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday, as he struggled to explain Sunday's ups and downs. "If you watch it, you'll see one guy on each play making a mistake. If a different person makes a mistake on each play, that's formula for failure. Just one person making a mistake can kill the play."

Mathis said the offense will have to be better Sunday, against a defense he feels is very similar to the Dolphins'.

Mathis said Vick "has had a very good season . . . He's a committed, talented, smart athlete who's willing to work."

Tight end Brent Celek agreed that Vick has played better than his stats.

"There were some things in there that happened that were kind of fluky - anytime we ever had a tipped ball early in the season, the thing was getting intercepted," Celek said. "I don't think some of those you can put on Mike; it's on us as an offense. He's been upbeat. You've got to put that stuff in the past, and that's what Mike's done. You can't sit there and talk about, 'Oh, I wish we could have done this, I wish we could have done that.' It's over now. You've got to move on."

Reid acknowledged that Vick, who has managed to avoid an interception twice this season - the season-opening win over St. Louis and the Oct. 30 win over the Cowboys - has forced some balls into coverage.

"In some situations, yeah, to get things going," Reid said. "He will tell you that he's trying to make things happen, but he's made a lot of good throws, too."

After Sunday's game, Reid talked of Vick needing to get back in sync with the offense, taking some time to feel as if he is in the flow again. Rex Ryan's Jets won't be a big help there.

"I'm not really focused on his stats, because I know what type of player Michael Vick is," Jets shutdown corner Darrelle Revis told a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters yesterday. "He's a threat to any defense . . . you've got to play the play out until the whistle blows. He's probably the best quarterback to extend plays."

Extending the Eagles' playoff viability past Sunday might be Vick's most difficult scramble.