GREEN BAY, Wis. – Nearing the end of an embarrassing loss to the New York Jets at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre turned to commiserate with another locker room sage, Green Bay Packers long snapper Rob Davis.

“He said, ‘Man, we never thought we’d see this, did we?”‘ Favre said after the 38-10 loss. “And I said, ‘No.’ I’m glad I made the decision to come back, but this is difficult. I never thought I’d see it, but here we are. I never thought I’d be part of a game or a season like we’ve had the last two years.”

With the loss to the Jets, the Packers slipped to 4-8 and appear headed for another disappointing finish. Favre still insists he made the right decision by coming back this season instead of retiring, but the optimism he showed at the beginning of training camp clearly has withered.

“I really thought I could be a difference-maker,” Favre said. “I’ve always felt that way. And I still believe that. But there are games like this and halves like we had in the first half where (you) go, ‘Huh, what a difference-maker you were. Did you make the right decision in coming back?”‘

After throwing a career-worst 29 interceptions last season, he has only 12 this year with four games remaining.

And Favre’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver on Sunday was his 15th of the year. He now needs only 10 more to pass Dan Marino for the all-time NFL record.

Favre calls the rest of this season a “character check,” a chance for both he and the team to respond to adversity. But will he check out at the end of the season, retiring to his ranch in Mississippi or taking his talents to another team?

Favre, who speaks to the media only sporadically these days, has not addressed his plans for next season. Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that he hadn’t spoken to Favre since the end of the game, and that any discussion of his future would be done in the offseason.

On Sunday, Favre sure sounded like someone looking forward to forgetting the past two seasons.

“I’m sure a year from now or years from now I really won’t think about this game or maybe this season or last season, as opposed to all the good things,” Favre said.

“Yes, this is part of my memory. But I’ll remember the guys I’ve played with and the fun I’ve had. If you won every game you ever played in, I don’t think it would be a whole lot of fun. I would sure love to win them all, but I think if you looked back you’d go, ‘Hey, that’s kind of boring.’ I can honestly say this is not real boring. This is tough. But I think I made the right decision.”

Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are turning to undrafted rookie Cory Ross and starting wide receiver Mark Clayton to replace return specialist B.J. Sams, whose season ended after he broke his right ankle.

Ross will primarily handle kickoff returns with Clayton filling in as a punt returner behind nickel back Corey Ivy. Sams was the fifth-ranked kickoff returner and seventh-ranked punt returner in the NFL before he was injured during Thursday night’s 13-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He was placed on injured reserve Monday along with backup fullback Justin Green (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and defensive tackle Justin Bannan (dislocated toe).

“Sometimes, life isn’t fair and B.J. was having such a great year,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Ross, a 5-foot-6, 201-pound undrafted free agent from Nebraska, was impressive during the preseason as a return specialist, but not enough to unseat Sams.

Ross caught 43 passes for three touchdowns as a senior and led the Cornhuskers with 882 rushing yards.

Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers may be without injured wide receiver Hines Ward, safety Troy Polamalu and two other starters for Thursday night’s AFC North game against Cleveland.

Ward and Polamalu sat out the Steelers’ 20-3 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday, when wide receiver Cedrick Wilson (ankle) and safety Ryan Clark (groin) also were hurt. Ward and Polamalu each injured a knee the week before against Baltimore.

With a short week of preparation and recovery time before the Cleveland game, coach Bill Cowher wasn’t optimistic that the injured players will be ready by Thursday.

“I’m not sure they’ll be able to make it on a short week,” Cowher said Monday.

Ward, who had arthroscopic knee surgery Nov. 27 to remove bone fragments from his left knee, had missed only one other game in his nine-season NFL career to injury before Sunday. He didn’t play against Jacksonville last season.

Polamalu had a sprained knee, and the team has not said when it expects the All-Pro safety to return.

If Ward and Wilson don’t play, the Steelers plan to start second-year receiver Nate Washington, a non-drafted player, and rookie Santonio Holmes at wide receiver.

If Polamalu and Clark can’t play, Tyrone Carter and rookie Anthony Smith would start at safety.

Because of the injuries, the Steelers made a number of roster moves Monday. They re-signed cornerback Chidi Iwuoma and wide receiver Lee Mays, released running back Duce Staley and placed wide receiver Willie Reid (foot) on the injured reserve list. Iwuoma and Mays were cut earlier this season.

Dolphins

With the Miami Dolphins again falling short of a playoff berth, coach Nick Saban says the last month of the season will be about playing for pride – and for jobs next year.

A loss Sunday to Jacksonville dropped Miami’s record to 5-7, two games behind five teams contending for the AFC’s two wild-card berths. That makes it almost certain the Dolphins will miss the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, the longest such drought in the franchise’s 41-year history.

“Nobody likes losing,” Saban said Monday. “I don’t like it. The players don’t like it. The owner doesn’t like it. We’re here to win. When that doesn’t happen, it’s disappointing to all of us.”

Owner Wayne Huizenga said he’s disappointed about the season, but he expressed confidence in Saban, who is 14-14 in two seasons with the Dolphins. Saban last week shot down rumors that he was interested in the Alabama job, and he has pledged to see through a turnaround in Miami.

During a 12-year span from 1990 to 2001, the Dolphins made the playoffs nine times. Since then, they’re 37-39. Saban inherited a team that went 4-12 in 2004.

“We came here because there’s a challenge to try to rebuild this franchise and rebuild this organization to being a consistent winner, taking it to where it used to be,” he said.

With the chance to upgrade months away, the final four games will be used to assess which positions most need help.

“We’re looking for guys that have the character to want to play winning football,” Saban said. “That’s how we’re going to proceed.”

Saban left open the possibility of playing Daunte Culpepper before the season ends Dec. 31. Culpepper underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday to remove a piece of cartilage that had hampered his recovery from reconstructive surgery more than a year ago.

“Daunte is going to stay on crutches for a few days,” Saban said. “Then he ought to be able to get back into his rehab, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Buccaneers

Jon Gruden is sticking with rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

The Tampa Bay coach reiterated Monday that the sixth-round draft pick is not the only reason the Buccaneers (3-9) have the NFL’s lowest scoring offense and are assured of finishing with their third losing record in the past four seasons.

Gradkowski has lost six of nine starts since taking over for the injured Chris Simms and has thrown for nine touchdowns and nine interceptions, including three picks in Sunday’s 20-3 loss at Pittsburgh.

The Bucs, who’ve scored a league-low 145 points, avoided being shut out for the second time by kicking a field goal on the final play.

“I don’t forsee a quarterback change, although if we continue to throw interceptions it will be a change we obviously need to make,” Gruden said.

“There are some things Bruce did well in the game. There are some things he obviously didn’t do well. We had five balls dropped, some game-changing drops. We’ve got to play a lot better as an offensive football team.”

With Simms out for the year after having his spleen removed in September, Tim Rattay is Gradkowski’s backup. Luke McCown, who had offseason knee surgery and was on the physically unable to perform list until late October, is the No. 3 quarterback.

Lions

Roy Williams is usually the most optimistic athlete in Detroit. After all, he guaranteed a Lions victory at Soldier Field this season and didn’t lose heart when the Bears won 34-7.

So, when even Williams calls the Lions’ situation hopeless, things have gotten really bad. The Lions are 2-10, their sixth straight season with at least 10 losses.

“There’s no hope,” he said Monday. “There’s no playoff run, there’s nothing in this building. Not this year. All we can do is try to build something that might help next year.”

Williams was frustrated by Detroit’s latest defeat, a 28-21 loss to New England, and he wasn’t alone. Quarterback Jon Kitna has also lost some of his usually positive outlook.

“Every quarterback is going to have bad days, but yesterday was the first time that I felt like I let the whole team down,” said Kitna, who turned over the ball four times. “As someone who is a competitive player and who cares about the other 53 guys in this room, that’s hard to accept.”

AP-ES-12-04-06 1751EST


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