FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots signed free agent fullback Heath Evans on Tuesday and released running back Amos Zereoue.

Evans, 26, is in his fifth NFL season and has played for the Seattle Seahawks and the Miami Dolphins. The 6-foot, 250-pounder played in six games this season for Miami before being released last Tuesday.

The Seahawks drafted him out of Auburn in the third round, 82nd overall, in 2001.

Zereoue, a six-year veteran who spent last season with Oakland, was signed by the Patriots on Sept. 28. The 5-foot-8 Zereoue rushed seven times for 14 yards and caught one pass for five yards for New England. Zereoue spent his first five seasons with Pittsburgh, which drafted him out of West Virginia in the third round in 1999.

Roethlisberger injury apparently not serious

PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger’s right knee injury apparently isn’t serious, but Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher isn’t ready to say if his quarterback will be ready to play Sunday in Green Bay.

Roethlisberger underwent an MRI exam Tuesday, about 12 hours after the Steelers’ 20-19 victory over Baltimore, and was given a preliminary diagnosis of a strained posterior capsule. The injury affects the range of motion of the knee and can be very painful.

The Steelers have a short week of practice before their first trip to Green Bay (1-6) in 10 years.

, but it is unlikely Roethlisberger will attempt to practice Wednesday. The Steelers (5-2) normally want a player to practice at least once by Friday to play Sunday.

Cowher did not specify Roethlisberger’s status – either probable, questionable or doubtful – and is not required to do so until Wednesday. The team also said there would be no update on the MRI results until then.

Roethlisberger, 18-1 as an NFL regular season starter, injured a knee for the second time in four weeks in a Monday night game as he caught a cleat in the turf while being hit by the Ravens’ Jarret Johnson during the first quarter. Despite limping for several plays after being hit, Roethlisberger stayed in the game and led two touchdown drives and a fourth quarter drive that resulted in Jeff Reed’s decisive 37-yard field goal with 1:36 remaining.

Cowher said the injury clearly affected Roethlisberger’s throwing and mobility, even though the second-year starter went 18-of-30 for 177 yards and two touchdowns to rookie tight end Heath Miller.

“Sure it had some effect and no question he was hurting, but he gutted it out,” Cowher said. “He was hurting. He told me at halftime he was getting it taped up and that “I’m going to give it a shot, but if I’m hurting this team, I’m going to take myself out.’ I said, “I expect you to do that. Only you know where you’re at with it.’ “

Roethlisberger started the second half by leading a 10-play, 64-yard drive that resulted in his second scoring pass to Miller, an 8-yarder that put the Steelers up 17-10. Pittsburgh didn’t score again until its final 60-yard drive that ended with Reed’s second field goal of the game, and his second game-winner in four games.

Cowher isn’t surprised Roethlisberger remained effective despite the injury. Roethlisberger’s 112.4 passer rating is the best in the league, and only he and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer have ratings above 100.0.

“He’s a very poised quarterback and he has a feel for the game,” Cowher said. “He’s a very competitive, confident individual, and you never sense him overreacting. He’s like the guy in basketball who wants the ball in his hands at end of the game, he has those attributes.

“He’s a tough guy, and I have a lot of respect for Ben. He knew the risks involved with going back out there,” Cowher said.

Roethlisberger hurt his left knee late in a 24-22 Monday night victory in San Diego on Oct. 10, sustaining a hypertension that caused him to sit out the following week’s 23-17 overtime loss to Jacksonville. His replacement, Tommy Maddox, had four turnovers in that loss – two in overtime, including an interception that was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

Cowher played Maddox even though Roethlisberger all but begged Cowher to play him, pleading his case up until the final hours before the game.

Maddox, the Steelers’ starter for most of the 2002 season and in 2003, has since fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Charlie Batch, and it seems likely Batch would start in Green Bay should Roethlisberger not be ready. Batch warmed up on the sidelines for a few plays Monday after Roethlisberger was hit.

AP-ES-11-01-05 1435EST


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