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INJURY BUG PUTS BITE ON DOLPHINS

Maybe Miami Dolphins linebacker Derrick Rodgers had the right idea.

He missed the team's charter flight to Green Bay on Wednesday (he arrived later but was benched for his gaffe), and his teammates might have been better off if they had missed it, too. A forfeit would have been a good gameplan.

All the Dolphins wanted to do in this meaningless final exhibition game was stay injury-free.

The Packers defeated the Dolphins, 25-17, on Thursday, but the Dolphins were bigger losers than that score indicates.

The injury-depleted Dolphins watched their wounded ranks swell by five players with their Monday Night Football season opener at the Denver Broncos a little more than a week away.

Just seven defensive plays into the game, cornerback Patrick Surtain, starting for the injured Terrell Buckley, crumpled with a right groin injury. Shortly after, backup defensive end Rich Owens limped off with bruised ribs. Worst of all, starting safety Calvin Jackson was taken off the field early in the second half with a left knee injury. There's more. Rookie defensive end Dimitrius Underwood, who wasn't even supposed to play, was taken off with a dislocated left shoulder. And at game's end, receiver Kio Sanford hobbled off with a leg injury. His season might be finished because his injury was diagnosed as a torn ACL.

Sanford had a kickoff return for a touchdown negated by replay, which showed that he had stepped out of bounds.

The Dolphins already had several starters on the shelf, including running backs Cecil Collins, Karim Abdul-Jabbar and J.J. Johnson. The latest hurts had the Dolphins shaking their heads.

"We came through camp pretty well, but every freak accident happened tonight," defensive end Trace Armstrong said.

Rookie punter Josh Bidwell needs further treatment for testicular cancer and will miss the 1999 season, Packers GM Ron Wolf said Thursday.

McNabb makes case to start

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles play their opener in 10 days. Unless coach Andy Reid changes his mind, Donovan McNabb will be watching Doug Pederson start at quarterback.

Even McNabb has been in Philly long enough to know that a quarterback controversy is brewing -- and that nobody does controversy like Philly.

McNabb directed two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter as the Eagles beat the Cleveland Browns, 30-17.

McNabb was 14 for 24 for 93 yards and three touchdowns.

"That's not my decision," McNabb said when asked repeatedly if he thinks he deserves to start the season opener Sept. 12 against Arizona. "I won't pay any attention to that."

Pats' road woes continue

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- John Kasay made a 61-yard field goal as time ran out to give the Carolina Panthers a 23-20 victory against the New England Patriots.

Adam Vinatieri made a 58-yarder to tie the game with three seconds left, but his squib kickoff was fielded by Spencer Reid at New England's 44. He went down, and referees ruled there was one second left on the clock.

The Patriots lost two of their top four draft choices in the opening half. Linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, a first-round pick, went down in the first quarter with a sprained right ankle and did not return. Tony George, a safety taken in the third round, left in the second quarter with a strained left knee. He also did not return.

New England, which lost six of its nine road games last season, came up short in both 1999 exhibitions away from Foxboro, Mass.

One week ago, the Patriots gave up 45 points in Tampa, Fla., the highest total ever scored by the Buccaneers in an exhibition. Against Carolina, the Patriots (1-3) didn't get a first down on their opening three possessions and generated just 39 yards on their first four. Drew Bledsoe was pulled at halftime after completing just three of eight passes for 16 yards.

"We didn't accomplish all the things we would have liked to in the preseason," said coach Pete Carroll, whose team opens the regular season on the road against the New York Jets.

Around the league

Kurt Warner, making his first start for St. Louis (2-2), completed 9 of 14 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown and led the Rams to scores on all three of his first-half possessions in a 17-6 win over the Detroit Lions (1-3).

Al Del Greco thought he had kicked his fourth field goal of the night, a 37-yarder with 8 seconds left, when the referees called the New Orleans Saints (2-2) for a false start. That forced Del Greco to try a 32-yarder, but his kick was wide right and the Saints pulled out a 12-11 victory over the Tennessee Titans (1-3).

A pass interference penalty on DeAuntae Brown in the end zone set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Keith Elias with 5 seconds remaining, giving the Indianapolis Colts (2-2) a 31-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks (2-2).

Reggie Barlow scored on an 88-yard punt return as the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-1) took a 27-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys (1-4).

The New York Giants will play their first game of the regular season without cornerback Jason Sehorn. The team listed Sehorn's status as week-to-week after an MRI on Thursday showed a continued strain in his left hamstring.

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