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PATRIOTS' COACH DEFENDS PASS-INTERFERENCE CALL

Pete Carroll can empathize with Wade Phillips. Empathize, not sympathize. The difference is more than a few letters deep.

"You're going to feel terrible when you lose a game that's somewhat out of your hands," the Patriots' coach said on Monday. "Anyone can understand that."

But Phillips, who coaches the Buffalo Bills, never will be able to persuade Carroll that safety Henry Jones didn't deserve being hit with a critical interference penalty on the next-to-last play of the Pats' improbable 25-21 victory over the Bills here Sunday night.

"The last call in the end zone was right," Carroll said. "Terry (Glenn) definitely got pushed before the ball was there. The guy had two hands on him and shoved him sideways."

Having nearly worn out the tape machine running and re-running the play, Carroll believes Phillips lacks creditable evidence to suggest his Bills got jobbed by the officials when quarterback Drew Bledsoe lofted his last-second prayer into the end zone.

But Carroll also seemed to suggest Phillips may have had a right to complain about the equally crucial call the officials made when Shawn Jefferson laid out for a fourth-down pass along the sidelines on the play before Bledsoe looked for Glenn.

"The catch was the same one Yancey Thigpen made against us in the playoffs last year," said Carroll, who had heatedly argued that Pittsburgh's receiver was out-of-bounds when he brought down a key pass at Three Rivers Stadium in January.

Clark named Browns' VP

CLEVELAND -- Dwight Clark, best known for making "The Catch" as a player, has joined the front office of the NFL team synonymous with "The Drive" and "The Fumble."

In a move rumored for months and finalized Monday, Clark was named vice president and director of football operations for the Cleveland Browns, who will rejoin the league next season as an expansion team.

Clark is leaving the same job with the San Francisco 49ers to be reunited with Carmen Policy, his close friend and Browns president.

Cleveland fans are hoping Clark's arrival can bring an NFL title to the Browns, who had great seasons end in heartbreak on John Elway's length-of-the-field drive in 1986 and Earnest Byner's goal-line fumble the next year.

Coslet apologizes for remarks

CINCINNATI -- Coach Bruce Coslet apologized for remarks following Cincinnati's latest loss and assured fans that he and the team do care about their performance.

After watching the Bengals fall to 2-10 with their seventh straight loss and being jeered off the field after losing, 34-17, to Jacksonville Sunday, Coslet bristled when asked about the fans' reaction.

"How do you think I feel?" Coslet said before ending his postgame interview. "How do you think the players feel? Maybe it's not worth it to us, either."

On Monday, Coslet opened his news conference by apologizing.

"I most certainly did not mean to say what I said. It was a mistake on my part. It is worth it to us, it is important to us."

Holmgren says fan crossed line

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Speculation over Mike Holmgren's future apparently has gotten to the Green Bay Packers' coach, who apologized on Monday for cursing at a fan who derided him at halftime Sunday.

Holmgren was making his way toward the tunnel in the north end zone at Lambeau Field after his team's uninspired first-half performance against the Philadelphia Eagles when a fan shouted that Holmgren should start thinking about his current job instead of his next one.

Holmgren responded by yelling two expletives at the heckling fan.

On Monday, Holmgren said he was sorry even though he felt the fan, who didn't use vulgarities himself and was not ejected, had crossed the line.

"I'm embarrassed by it, first of all," Holmgren said. "I have never done that before and I trust I'll never do it again. I fully believe that a fan comes into the stadium and if we're playing poorly, they can say just about anything they want to say."

But, Holmgren said, the fan "in my opinion, crossed the line with me. It was pretty personal, dealing with my family, my future, things . . . that to me right now is very sensitive."

Two weeks ago, Packers general manager Ron Wolf estimated there's an 80-percent chance Holmgren will leave Green Bay.

Panthers suspend Lane

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One day after the Carolina Panthers guaranteed themselves the worst record in club history, the team suspended halfback Fred Lane on Monday for making an obscene gesture during a 48-21 loss to the New York Jets. He will miss one game without pay.

After rushing for a 1-yard touchdown in Sunday's game, Lane dropped the ball and ran toward the fans in a corner of the end zone at Giants Stadium. He began gyrating his hips back and forth and grabbed his crotch.

"We're in the image business," coach Dom Capers said Monday, "And that's not the type of image we want to portray."

Around the league

-- Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden was given until Dec. 21 before he has to face a judge on drunken driving charges.

-- Washington Redskins linebacker Antwaune Ponds pleaded innocent Monday to misdemeanor charges he held a knife to the throat of a woman during an argument.

Ponds was released on his own recognizance after entering the plea to counts of menacing and criminal possession of a weapon.

-- The Jacksonville Jaguars will have to wait a few days before learning if Tony Boselli will be available for Sunday's game against Detroit. Boselli sprained his lower right ankle in Sunday's win over Cincinnati.

-- Jeff George had another MRI Monday on the aching groin that has prevented him from playing a full game since September, and the Oakland Raiders' quarterback speculated he may be finished for the season.

-- Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison is out for the season with a separated shoulder. Harrison injured his shoulder on the first offensive series of Sunday's 38-31 loss at Baltimore and will require surgery.

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