The drumbeats started soon after Sunday's loss to Atlanta, the murmuring in the distance that Michael Vick would be replaced as the first-team quarterback when the Eagles begin practicing to play the New Orleans Saints.

It might happen, although it really doesn't matter for the season at hand. If Andy Reid ends the Michael Vick experiment one game after ending the Juan Castillo experiment, he will have turned the franchise's attention to the 2013 season.

There is no other way to interpret what it means to put a rookie, a third-round draft pick, into the starting lineup in the middle of an already disappointing season. Reid could throw a change-up and go to Trent Edwards, with the handy explanation that a veteran might be able to salvage things, but that would be like replacing a leaky tire with a flat spare.

No, the logical choice is either to stay with Vick and hold out hope for a turnaround or go with the kid and find out whether he is a quarterback or just another Reid draft pick who impersonates one for a while.

Either way, Reid won't make the decision based on trying to save his job beyond this season. That is the way the rest of us - and most of the rest of the world - would think, but it isn't the way Reid thinks. After all these years, that much is obvious about this guy. He really will do what he thinks is best for the team, even if those judgments are what got the Eagles into this mess in the first place.

If he gets fired, then he gets fired. Reid will nod, thank Jeffrey Lurie for the opportunity to coach the team, and clean out his desk. He'll wish the next guy well and he will mean it. That's the most infuriating thing about Reid. He actually believes all that Chip Hilton rot he's been feeding us since 1999.

As far as the quarterback thing goes, however, Vick definitely is not having a very good season. That much is undeniable. He isn't the reason the Eagles lost to the Falcons, though, and Foles wouldn't have led the team to a win in that game, either. Magneto Man on roller skates wouldn't have led the team to a win.

Vick was just OK against the Falcons. His quarterback rating was squarely in the middle of his performances this season. Three had been better, three had been worse. In the hallways, it is being whispered that he goofed on a couple of audible calls that would have caught the Falcons in the wrong coverages, and that plays nicely into all manner of stereotypes about Vick's various capabilities.

If you want to do the dirtiest thing imaginable to a black quarterback, start implying - off the record, of course - that he isn't thinking the game properly. That's where we're heading, folks. Should be a fun ride.

Reid undoubtedly thought that firing Castillo would wake up the defense, because he assumed the players would feel that seismic shift as deeply as he did. On Sunday, they played as if they barely noticed. It was just another day to punch in and punch out at the factory, and there's no sense investing too much emotional energy into a company that's about to go under.

Should Reid change quarterbacks, it won't be for the same reason. He should realize now that his team is beyond that kind of motivation. If he changes quarterbacks, it will be because he is turning the page.

Somehow, that doesn't seem like the choice Reid would make. His history is to try to punch his way out of setbacks, and Vick represents the best chance to do so. The next eight opponents have losing records at the moment. If the defense emerges from its fog, the offense can be tweaked to allow Vick to work better behind an offensive line that is barely semipro right now.

On Sunday, only four of 35 pass targets were running backs out of the backfield. Given the need to get rid of the ball quickly and keep defenses off-balance, that's just stupid. Instead of whining surreptitiously that Vick didn't make the proper read on two of the 59 plays called, try giving him the right plays to begin with. Yeah, that might work.

Vick hasn't complained about the line - even off-the-record in the hallway - and he hasn't complained about the play-calling, and he hasn't complained about being locked into a collapsing pocket all season. He even tried to cover Reid's back on Sunday when told the coach said he specifically would reevaluate the quarterback position, even though that isn't really what Reid said, and even though the question was presented to Vick with a little helium added to it.

"Whatever decision Coach makes, I'll support it," Vick said.

And whatever else he might or might not be, that's a pretty good leader right there. A team drifting toward the falls, with some of the hands not appearing to care that much, can use more - not fewer - leaders.