Finding an outlet for

his sense of humor

Miami defensive end Jason Taylor has been critical of the fact that San Diego's Shawne Merriman made the AFC Pro Bowl team despite testing positive for a banned substance this season. Merriman, who has the nickname "Lights Out" for his history of knocking out opponents, told reporters last week he isn't taking the criticism too seriously.

"I sent him a 'Lights Out' hat and a 'Lights Out' T-shirt and a bag of popcorn," he said, "so he can watch us in the playoffs."


Passing grades

STATS LLC notes that the three most-improved teams in terms of passing touchdowns given up are in the AFC. New England has made the biggest strides, giving up only 10 touchdown passes, 15 fewer than last season. Tennessee and Jacksonville are second, each giving up 11 fewer this season, followed by Minnesota and Philadelphia at nine fewer.


Intercepting the blame

With his 7-8 team eliminated from the playoff picture, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters last week that the responsibility rests with him.

"It's disappointing because I feel a lot of it is my fault, and I feel we could have played better if I would have played better," he said. "It's one of those things where I have to get better, and hopefully we can improve next year."

Roethlisberger, who set a rookie record in 2004 by going 13-0, is 23rd in the league this season with a 74.0 passer rating, and his 22 interceptions lead the NFL.

He indicated the emergency appendectomy he underwent the week before the regular season began slowed his progress.

"Yeah, at times it was frustrating," he said. "I couldn't really get out there and get it going. That's the way it goes sometimes. Every year is not going to be a perfect year and a storybook season. We'll just have to try to improve and get better."


Staying the course

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation, the Tennessean newspaper reported Friday that the Titans plan to exercise the option on Coach Jeff Fisher's contract in the coming days, then continue discussions on a long-term deal at season's end.

Fisher's job status has been a hot topic this season, especially after his team's 0-5 start. The newspaper also reported the team plans to exercise the one-year options for offensive coordinator Norm Chow and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.


Missing in action

Denver receiver Rod Smith, who has averaged 86 catches over the last nine seasons, has only 47. Today, he'll complete his first sub-70-catch season since 1996.

That, he says, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Sometimes when you catch a ton of passes, it means you're down a lot, and you have to throw," Smith told the Denver Post. "It's nice when you can have a balance. Guys like Marvin [Harrison] and those guys, sometimes you can get, not jealous, but envious of them because they catch a ton of balls, but their team still wins games. But the ultimate prize is the Super Bowl, and that's what I have and they don't."


Time to move on?

Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp says he wants to play two more seasons but isn't sure whether they will be in Oakland. He told reporters last week that he plans to sit down for a conversation soon with Raiders brass to "see if we're all on the same page."

Sapp, 34, said a lot of pieces are in place for the team to be successful, even though it's 2-13 heading into its finale. The Raiders have the league's top-ranked pass defense and are ranked fourth in yards given up. Their offense, however, is ranked last in scoring and yards per game.

"[If] you feel like you can aid a person in going somewhere and they want to go in a different direction, it's just crazy for you to go that direction," he said. "I'm too old and too stubborn and too stupid to do that. I'm not a rebuilding guy. I don't have that many years left in me."



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