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NEXT TIME, WHIGHAM WILL LET WHISTLE SIGNAL START OF BLOCK PARTY

The next time Larry Whigham blocks a punt, he'll remember to delay the celebration until he hears the whistle.

The energetic special teamer's premature dance last Sunday while the ball was still free didn't help the New England Patriots in a game they couldn't afford to lose. But they did, 24-9, to the Philadelphia Eagles, and were eliminated from playoff contention.

That means the Patriots will be playing out the string in their remaining games against Buffalo and Baltimore, both at home.

"I'll continue to be very enthusiastic," Whigham said, "but I think I have learned something from that play. Just always finish plays."

The Patriots have lost five of their last six games and will miss the playoffs for the first time in four years.

"I've tried so hard this season to make plays for this team, and when I get an opportunity to make a play, it backfires," Whigham said. "That's how it's been for us this year. It just hasn't worked out like we'd like it to."

Whigham made the 1997 Pro Bowl as a special teams player; it was in that role that he made his big mistake last Sunday.

With the Eagles ahead, 10-3, Whigham blocked Sean Landeta's punt and started celebrating, oblivious to the fact Mike Caldwell scooped up the ball and ran 8 yards for a first down with eight minutes left in the first half.

"That was a huge play and opportunity in that game," coach Pete Carroll said. "To not finish it and capitalize on it was very, very costly."

Brown's eye still bleeding

CLEVELAND -- Orlando Brown must stay in the hospital because of new bleeding in his right eye, which was injured by a penalty flag thrown by a referee.

Browns coach Chris Palmer said today he learned of his player's condition from team medical personnel. He is not sure when the 350-pound tackle can leave Cleveland Clinic.

Brown has been told by doctors he might have permanent vision damage. With a metal patch over his right eye, Brown apologized Tuesday for shoving the referee.

"I want the fans to understand that I attempted to return to the play, not to confront the official," he said. "I hope to regain all of my eyesight so I can continue to play for the Browns, the Cleveland fans and to continue to care for my family."

Brown knocked down Jeff Triplette after being struck in the eye by the referee's penalty flag on Sunday. The NFL has yet to decide if it will punish the 6-foot-7 tackle.

Brown's agent Tom Condon said Triplette tried to contact Brown to apologize again, but that the two hadn't spoken.

Dolphins seek answers

MIAMI -- With a playoff berth on the line Monday against the New York Jets, the Miami Dolphins coaches met with one goal in mind: Find a way to get their receivers open.

While that problem showed itself most obviously from inside the 20-yard line against San Diego on Sunday (four field goals after getting to first-down situations inside the San Diego 20 four times), the Dolphins' deep passing game also has faded.

The Dolphins have only seven catches of 40 yards or longer this season, including only one in the past six games. The season total is one more than the six of a year ago, when the Dolphins had the eighth-fewest such long catches in the league. It's not what they had in mind when they signed receiver Tony Martin.

"One of the keys is that we have to do some things to get our playmakers open so that we can score some points, so we can have touchdowns instead of field goals," coach Jimmy Johnson said.

The Dolphins have scored 17 touchdowns on 44 possessions inside the 20. At 38.9 percent, that ranks No. 26 in the NFL, and there is only one playoff-caliber team with a worse percentage, 9-5 Tampa Bay at 27.8 percent.

Dolphins rookie running back Cecil Collins was ordered today to be sent to Louisiana, where he was arrested for unauthorized entry into two women's apartments, for a probation violation.

Collins, who has 15 days to appeal, was sent back to the Broward County Jail while Louisiana authorities and his defense attorney decided what to do. He was arrested Dec. 16 on two burglary counts after allegedly climbing into a couple's bedroom window at his complex.

Around the league

A judge ordered Rae Carruth held without bond on charges of conspiring to kill his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams. It might be more than a year before the trial starts.

Washington Redskins coach Norv Turner denied reports that he is considering quitting his job even if his team makes the NFL playoffs. "I'm not going to resign," Turner told the Associated Press.

Jake Delhomme, cut in training camp and the No. 4 quarterback as recently as last Sunday, will start Friday's game against Dallas for 2-12 New Orleans.

Minnesota Vikings free safety Orlando Thomas is out for the season after breaking his right shoulder blade in Monday night's 24-20 win over Green Bay.

Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski has been fined $15,000 by the NFL for a helmet-to-helmet hit Dec. 13 on Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor. The fine for the hit Dec. 13 brings the total amount of sanctions against Romanowski this season to $42,500.

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