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Roethlisberger injuries pile up

Another week, and another injury for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger said yesterday his right thumb injury ''is pretty painful," but he is hopeful it won't severely affect his throwing in Sunday's key AFC North game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The injury, not disclosed until Wednesday, follows injuries to both knees that kept Roethlisberger out of four games. Coach Bill Cowher also said Roethlisberger ''tweaked" his ankle during a 26-7 loss to Indianapolis Monday night, but that injury was not listed on the team's first injury report of the week.

That report, issued late Wednesday afternoon, was the first disclosure of any thumb injury. Neither Roethlisberger nor Cowher mentioned it following the Colts' game. Roethlisberger said the injury is painful enough that trainers designed a protective device so he can throw in practice this week.

''It's a little sore, but we're going to try and see if we can get by with it," said Roethlisberger, who is listed as probable.

Cowher downplayed the injury after practice yesterday.

''Everything's fine. There's no need to go into detail," Cowher said. ''He's ready to play Sunday."

Roethlisberger, who is 18-2 as an NFL regular-season starter, returned from a three-week layoff after knee surgery to go 17 of 26 for 133 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions against the Colts, but could not lead any scoring drives in the second half.

Roethlisberger isn't the Steelers' only injury worry this week.

Left tackle Marvel Smith (ankle) is out, which means rookie Trai Essex will be responsible for protecting Roethlisberger's blindside as the left tackle. Essex was held out of the Steelers' first nine games before playing extensively the last two games.

The Steelers (7-4) could regain a tie for the division lead -- and would own the tiebreaker -- if they beat the Bengals (8-3) for the ninth time in their last 11 games. The Bengals could open a two-game lead, with four games to play, by winning in Heinz Field.

ESPN suspends Irvin

Michael Irvin says he has been suspended by ESPN for one week for not telling the network about his arrest last week, when police found a drug pipe hidden in his car during a traffic stop.

Irvin, who has maintained that the pipe belonged to a friend, told the Associated Press that he won't return to the air until Dec. 11.

He was arrested last Friday in Plano, Texas, for an outstanding warrant on an unpaid speeding ticket but was charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia after police searched his car.

ESPN did not learn of Irvin's arrest until reporters began calling Sunday night. Irvin said he didn't tell the network about his arrest because he was scared.

''I was just scared, hoping and praying that maybe it would go away," Irvin said. ''I was told that I paid the fine and it was over. I was hoping it was over."

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said the network doesn't comment on specific personnel records.

Irvin, a former wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys and semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said he had no problem with the suspension.

''Being an employee and not giving them the information, certainly it's fair," Irvin said.

Dilfer questionable

Browns starting quarterback Trent Dilfer, slowed by sore knees, participated in team drills during practice but remains questionable for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Dilfer took some snaps with Cleveland's first-team offense. On Wednesday, Dilfer watched as rookie backup Charlie Frye worked exclusively with the starters . . . Arizona Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers pulled a calf muscle in practice and is questionable for Sunday's game at San Francisco. Rackers underwent an MRI later in the day, and the results were not immediately available, but the Cardinals were preparing to play without their star kicker . . . A Minneapolis prosecutor said he hopes to decide within two weeks whether misdemeanor charges should be brought against members of the Minnesota Vikings for their antics during a boat party in October. The announcement by Steve Tallen came one day after the Hennepin County sheriff's department determined felony charges were not warranted.

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