THE SEASON'S most riveting holiday drama, "It's a Juanderful Life," is playing out down at the NovaCare complex.

Coldhearted Mr. Banner seemed ready to foreclose, but the citizenry - the defensive players who live in Castillo Falls - showed up at the last minute with bushelsful of sacks and interceptions.

The movie's not over, though. That might be why Andy Reid, given a chance yesterday to make a stirring declaration about embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, didn't make any proclamations along the lines of "Juan's my defensive coordinator, no matter what."

Oh, Reid spoke glowingly of Castillo's attributes. But there was no absolute decree that speculation about Castillo's job status is unfounded.

Because, on Christmas Eve, if Tony Romo and the Cowboys blow away all the progress of the last 2 weeks, well, you have to think that Castillo still will get fired, and if Reid refuses to do that, his return still isn't a slam-dunk.

"I think everybody's getting better every week," Reid said, when asked about a full offseason perhaps giving Castillo a better shot of fielding a championship-level defense. "That's what I think, that's where I'm at. You guys all know how I feel about Juan. I don't think that's new news. But I think it's important that we all, starting with me . . . get better every week and play as a team, and that's the important thing."

Earlier, Reid talked about what he thinks has helped Castillo weather the storm so far.

"From a player's standpoint, I think you see consistency," Reid said. "I think what he told you [would happen] happens . . . I think the part that's been consistent, he's not afraid to admit a problem and fix the problem. He's not hiding from anything there. He obviously has the trust of the players and the confidence of the players."

That last part is an interesting facet of management's offseason decision. Sean McDermott departed last January in large part because players thought he didn't relate to them. Nobody in the locker room seems to feel that way about Castillo, even if they acknowledge, as Nnamdi Asomugha did Sunday, that Castillo has been learning on the job this season. (And looking horribly overmatched much of that time, though Asomugha didn't say that.)

The fans fired Castillo months ago, and they'd still just as soon Reid go with him. This ownership does not necessarily cater to the whims of the fan base, though. If Reid thinks Castillo can still do the job, will Castillo stay? Does the ultimate answer have anything to do with what other choices might hit the market? Is there a way to tweak the staff, give Castillo some experienced help, without firing him?

The players respect how Castillo has handled the season's setbacks.

"During that whole time when things got a little rough, when the fans were on him, and we weren't getting results, he just said, 'We're going to keep working, we're going to keep fighting, we're going to figure this out,' " defensive end Jason Babin said last night on Comcast SportsNet's "Daily News Live." "We were learning and growing together. It wasn't just Juan growing and learning, it was the defense growing as a whole - the coaches and the players all working together. Nobody gave up, nobody quit. We all kept buying in, kept buying in, kept showing up to work, and these are the results we're getting."

They need to keep getting those results, though.


Andy Reid said he thinks cornerback Asante Samuel (hamstring) will be OK for Saturday's game at Dallas . . . Reid said he is "a huge Jets fan this week," with the Bird needing the Jets to beat the Giants for the Eagles to stay alive for the playoffs . . . Asked again yesterday about LeSean McCoy's extraordinary season, Reid said: "You've got to compliment him for his work ethic, getting a little bit heavier, a little bit stronger, being able to endure the NFL season. These are all in the maturation process of great running backs . . . So, he's working to put himself as one of the elite, elite guys in this league, and he's on pace to do that. He's on pace to do that with the organization and in the National Football League" . . . Defensive tackle Trevor Laws is battling knee tendinitis, Reid said . . . Jason Babin had 17 1/2 sacks in the first 66 games of his career, but has 30 1/2 in the last 30 games. He is one of the great late bloomers of all time . . . Danny Watkins and Jason Kelce are the first two Eagles' rookie linemen to start 10 or more games in a season, the team said.