Lions RB Jones to miss final game with knee injury

A torn knee ligament will keep Lions running back Kevin Jones out of the team's final regular-season game this weekend and could sideline him until the start of training camp.

Tests revealed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Jones' right knee. He was injured late in the first half of Sunday's 25-20 victory over Kansas City after being tackled on a short reception.

Coach Rod Marinelli said Monday the team's medical staff will wait until swelling goes down in the knee to determine the best remedy. He wasn't sure of the extent of the tear or whether it will need surgery.

Marinelli said he hopes to have Jones back when training camp begins in late July.

The former Virginia Tech standout has missed 10 games due to injuries since Detroit selected him in the first round of the 2004 draft.

Jones, who leads the Lions with 581 yards and eight touchdowns on 153 carries, broke a bone in his right foot late last season and spent all of training camp on the physically unable to perform list after offseason surgery to repair the fracture. He was activated for Detroit's third regular-season game.

"It's tough," coach Rod Marinelli said Monday. "He has fought this thing all year long. ... He is sore every week in practice. He is fighting it every step of the way. He's sore and then he tries to get himself into the game ready to go.

"He's been a warrior all year now. He's been special. He is tougher than nails and it means everything to him so you feel for the man."

Ankle, elbow and shoulder injuries dogged Jones during his first two seasons with the team.

T.J. Duckett, who rushed for a season-best 102 yards against Kansas City, should get the bulk of the carries Sunday when Detroit ends the regular season at Green Bay. Marinelli said the Lions also will use Aveion Cason and Tatum Bell.

Starting right tackle Damien Woody sprained his right shoulder against the Chiefs, but Marinelli said Woody could be ready to play the Packers if he develops enough strength to push off with the shoulder.

Willis McGahee will miss the season finale against the Steelers with two fractured ribs, an injury that further thins an already depleted roster.

McGahee's was hurt in Sunday's 27-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Baltimore played without linebacker Ray Lewis, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, tight ends Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox, and quarterback Kyle Boller.

The list expanded as the game wore on. Besides McGahee, the Ravens (4-11) lost tight end Quinn Sypniewski (concussion), offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (hamstring) and running back Mike Anderson (strained quad). Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg also left with a foot injury.

Earlier this season, defensive end Trevor Pryce and quarterback Steve McNair were placed on injured reserve.

Ravens coach Brian Billick won't blame his team's franchise-record nine-game losing streak solely on injuries.

"In my 30-some odd years, I don't remember ever having going through this type of thing," he said Monday.

Rookie Troy Smith, who received his first NFL start in place of Boller, is expected to start against the Steelers. Boller sustained a concussion two weeks ago in Miami and has not yet fully recovered.

"The doctors will not put him out there, even in practice, unless he is completely safe and cleared to go," Billick said. "Not knowing how his progression will be during the week, it's likely that Troy will get another start. We will prepare the game plan with Troy being the starter in mind."

Smith went 16-for-33 for 199 yards and a touchdown, but he lost two fumbles and did not get Baltimore on the scoreboard until connecting with Derrick Mason on a 79-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.

Patrick Kerney has a chance to finish as the NFL's leader in sacks, and to do it against his former team.

Kerney is on the cusp of doing that for the first time entering Sunday's game between NFC West champion Seattle (10-5) and the now-flopping Falcons (3-12).

"It'd be great to put in a good performance there. Those fans in Atlanta supported me for eight years, and I still have a lot of friends there," said Kerney, who has a career-high 14 1/2 sacks.

But will he even get the chance to maintain his half-sack lead on Mario Williams of Houston and one-sack edge on Jared Allen of Kansas City?

Will the defense that Kerney's arrival helped vastly improve set a team record for fewest points allowed in a full season, bettering the 261 yielded in 1991, by holding Atlanta to 13 or fewer points?

Will Matt Hasselbeck get a chance to break his Seattle record for yards passing? He's 22 away from the 3,841 he had in 2003.

The Seahawks have clinched the No. 3 seed in the NFC. That means nothing they do in Atlanta will change their first-round home date against the NFC's final wild-card entrant Jan. 5 or 6, with a potential second-round game at second-seeded Green Bay.

Coach Mike Holmgren prefers to play his starters through the end of the season to carry continuity and sharpness into the postseason. But he admits to being conflicted.

"We haven't made any decisions yet about how we're going to play the game," Holmgren said before huddling with his coaches Monday. The debate of whether to play or preserve the veterans is so deep, Holmgren will be reconvening the coaching staff late on Christmas morning through midday to set a plan. The players, meanwhile, get the holiday off.

"My inclination right now is that we're going to keep playing and hopefully keep our momentum up a little bit," Holmgren said.

Defensive end Mark Anderson was placed on injured reserve after he hurt his knee in the Bears' loss to Minnesota on Dec. 17 and was not active against Green Bay on Sunday.

Anderson is tied for third on the team with five sacks and ranks fifth on the defensive line with 36 tackles. The two-year veteran from Alabama also has five tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, one pass breakup and a forced fumble during his first full season as a starter.

Defensive tackle Ross Kolodziej went on injured reserve Monday and linebacker David Holloway was promoted from the practice squad.

Kolodziej has been sidelined with a calf injury. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota, he appeared in two games for the Cardinals.

Holloway was signed by Arizona as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland. He was released on Aug. 31, then re-signed to the practice squad.

Holloway's father Brian was a standout for the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Raiders.

The Cardinals also re-signed tight end Alex Shor to the practice squad.

The kids had John Fox in a good mood on Christmas Eve.

Yes, it was two days after the Carolina Panthers were eliminated from the playoff race, and yes, owner Jerry Richardson still hasn't officially cleared up Fox's status for next season. But the coach was unusually cheerful Monday.

The reason for the smile and playful jabs at reporters? The recent run of solid play from his young players. From Jon Beason's stellar rookie season to Matt Moore's emergence and Ryne Robinson's improvement, there's growing optimism.

When the Panthers dropped to 5-8, Fox decided to take a look at young players. Moore got the start at quarterback the next week and led the Panthers to a surprising win over NFC West champion Seattle. Carolina then gave NFC East champ Dallas a scare on Saturday before falling 20-13 in a game where 11 rookies were active and five started.

"I think when you look back at '04, and last year to some degree, we've had our share of injury-plagued seasons," Fox said. "One of the advantages of that is getting young guys much-needed experience."

First-round pick Beason has been so good for so long Fox thinks people have forgotten he's a rookie. Already the anchor of the defense, the middle linebacker had 12 tackles against the Cowboys, marking the 13th time in 15 games he's led the team. Fox said Beason should be mentioned along with San Francisco's Patrick Willis among the most impressive defensive rookies in the league.

Special teams have also improved, led by Robinson. The fourth-round pick caught plenty of grief earlier this year for Carolina's poor punt and kickoff returns. But Robinson had a 34-yard punt return and a 42-yard kickoff return against Dallas.

Cornerback Eric King had season-ending surgery on his broken left forearm Monday, an injury that will need up to six weeks for recovery.

King had been a key special teams player for the Titans, ranking third in special teams tackles with 11 going into Sunday's 10-6 win over the New York Jets. He was hurt making a tackle on second-and-13 and immediately grabbed his left forearm, but was able to return in the second half.

"One of our more productive players, and he was playing very well in the nickel," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "Eric could come in as corner and play nickel and really has been a factor all year on special teams. We're going to try to replace him with that type of player."

Fisher said he was optimistic center Kevin Mawae, who sat out Sunday with a sore calf, and cornerback Nick Harper, who had a groin strain during warmups, would return to practice this week.

"From a health standpoint, we should be fairly good moving into the week," he said.

Backup Reynaldo Hill, who had an interception replacing Harper in the lineup, had a concussion. The coach said Hill had been cleared to return, but that Fisher didn't put him back in the game.

Coach Jon Gruden isn't second-guessing resting key players for the last two weeks of the regular season in hopes of keeping them healthy for the playoffs.

Reserve receiver Maurice Stovall broke his right arm during the first half of Sunday's 21-19 loss at San Francisco. That was more than enough to convince Gruden he's taking the correct approach.

The loss to the 49ers ended Tampa Bay's bid to earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC. As the fourth seed, the NFC South champion Buccaneers (9-6) will host the New York Giants (10-5) on the opening weekend of the playoffs.

"When you start seeing your players carried off, you have emotions that go through you," Gruden said Monday, adding that Stovall - a solid contributor on special teams, whose role in the offense was expanding - is out for the season.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia played less than a half, 1,000-yard receiver Joey Galloway left the game after aggravating a shoulder injury on his only catch, and the Bucs played most of the second half without a majority of regulars on defense.

That was Gruden's plan all along, and he likely will stick with it through next Sunday's finale against Carolina.

Whether it's a close game or blowout, the Falcons can't find a way to win. The latest setback, losing in overtime at Arizona, was the sixth straight defeat. Players are so beaten down emotionally and physically that interim coach Emmitt Thomas gave them Monday off.

Promoted to replace Bobby Petrino two weeks ago, Thomas told the team to focus on what went right against the Cardinals. This time, at least, Atlanta played competitively after losing its last five by an average of almost 22 points.

"We just stressed to them that they're pros," Thomas said. "We laid an egg last week, and we wanted to come out this week and play Falcon football, make the fans of Atlanta, our owner and our organization proud."

The Falcons ended the season with a 1-7 road record. Since winning at Miami in Week 9 of 2005, they have dropped 11 of 15 away from the Georgia Dome.

Not that home has been much kinder. Over the last three years in November and December, Atlanta has a combined 2-10 record at the dome, which was nearly empty in the closing minutes of a Week 15 loss to New Orleans.

The Falcons (3-12) end the season Sunday against NFC West champion Seattle (10-5).

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Close losses have defined the Arizona Cardinals' season. Finally winning one, over Atlanta 30-27 in overtime, has first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt encouraged.

"You know one thing that's always been said is `The Cardinals can't win a game at the end,"' Whisenhunt said Monday at his weekly news conference. "Yesterday we did, and for me that's a positive sign."

Six of the Cardinals' losses have been by seven points or less. In another, a 25-10 loss to Carolina, Arizona led 10-9 entering the fourth quarter.

"There probably are three or four plays that's the difference between us sitting here at 9-6 or even 10-5," Whisenhunt said. "That's frustrating."

No Arizona loss was more painful than a 37-31 overtime beating at home against San Francisco on Nov. 25. In that game, Neil Rackers missed what would have been a game-winning 32-yard field goal, then Kurt Warner fumbled the ball away in the Cardinals' end zone to give the 49ers the win.

Sunday's overtime performance was an improvement, to say the least.

"We were in the exact same situation that we were against San Francisco," Whisenhunt said. "Our management at the end of the game was much better. Our guys made plays."

The Cardinals seemed headed for a stunning loss when the Falcons rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to go ahead 27-24 on Morten Andersen's 21-yard field goal with 1:38 to play.

But Warner directed a masterful drive - with big catches by Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson - to set up a 29-yard field goal. This time, Rackers made it, sending the game into overtime.

"We went down the field with 1:33 on the clock and no time-outs to kick a field goal to tie it up," Whisenhunt said. "That just doesn't happen. That's not an easy thing to do."

Atlanta called "heads" on the subsequent coin toss, and it came up tails, adding to the kind of bad breaks the Falcons have endured in a 3-12 season.

The Cardinals took the kickoff, drove downfield, and Rackers' 31-yard field goal won it.

Had Atlanta won the toss, it's a safe bet that the outcome would have been different, considering the way the Falcons usually ineffective offense methodically took apart the Cardinals' secondary in the fourth quarter behind the play of quarterback Chris Redman.

"Maybe that's a function of us being a little bit too confident, having a 10-point lead and playing a little bit soft," Whisenhunt said. "We've got to improve that. That was disappointing. We can't let them have three consecutive drives for points at the end of a game, especially when we have a lead."

Although the team hasn't turned into the run-oriented squad he envisioned, the offense has been effective. The Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in seven consecutive games, something they haven't done since 1983-84. Their five 30-point games are the most since 1984.

This time, Boldin made the biggest plays. Despite still hurting with hip and toe injuries, he caught 13 passes for 162 yards, including a pair of touchdowns and a jaw-dropping one-handed grab to set up Arizona's other TD.

A victory at home against St. Louis on Sunday would give Arizona an 8-8 record, its best since 1998. It would be only the third time since 1984 that the franchise didn't have a losing season.

Whisenhunt gave mixed signals on the significance of a .500 finish.

First, he said, "8-8 is not where I want to be. I feel we're a better team than that. We will be a better team than that."

Later, though, he said going 8-8 would "be a significant change record-wise for this team."

"I heard a number of our players say yesterday that they'd never won this many games in a season," Whisenhunt said. "If we can win another one, it will hopefully lay the groundwork for a good season next year."

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