Denver punter Todd Sauerbrun faces an assault charge for an incident outside a restaurant, a case that could bring more discipline from the NFL.

Sauerbrun, the fourth-leading punter in the NFL, was suspended for the first month of last season after using a banned dietary supplement. Upon his reinstatement, the Broncos and Sauerbrun split ways and he signed with New England.

Sauerbrun returned to Denver on a 1-year, $1.4 million contract after being granted his release from the Patriots in the spring, and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan admonished him upon his return: "Just stay clean, just stay out of trouble."

Denver police said Sauerbrun was cited for simple assault early Saturday.

"He was cited for a municipal ordinance violation of simple assault that stemmed from an altercation with a cabdriver," Detective John White said. "So Sauerbrun was not arrested, but he was transported to a local detox facility."

White said he didn't have the name of the cab company or the driver: "I don't have a whole lot of the specifics because it was written on a city citation. It's alleged that it became physical at some point because of him being cited for simple assault."

Sauerbrun will have to appear in Denver County Court, but White said he didn't know when.

Last year, Sauerbrun lost his job to Paul Ernster while serving his suspension for using ephedra in a misguided attempt to lose weight and gain gusto for his workouts. He rejoined the Broncos on April 20 and pledged to repay Shanahan for giving him another chance, much as Denver's coach did in 2005 after Carolina gave up on him following a series of on- and off-field distractions, including a drunken driving arrest.

"If he's guilty, he's going to have to pay the price," Shanahan said.

Given his previous run-ins, Sauerbrun could face more discipline from the league under commissioner Roger Goodell's tough policy on player misbehavior.

Sauerbrun attended the Broncos' special-teams workout in preparation for their game at Houston on Thursday, but he wasn't around afterward when reporters had locker-room access.

Noteworthy

* New England was made a 27-point favorite over the New York Jets in the opening line for Sunday's home game. The line dropped yesterday to 24, which would match San Francisco's record point spread over Cincinnati on Dec. 5, 1993.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked five times at his news conference yesterday about the impact of the spying scandal on Sunday's rematch and responded with his stock answer, "We're going to approach it like every other game."

* St. Louis team president John Shaw told coach Scott Linehan won't lose his job because of the injured-plagued Rams' 3-10 record.

* Quarterback Jeff Garcia is expected to return to the Tampa Bay lineup against Atlanta after missing two games and most of a third with a lower-back bruise.

* Kyle Orton, who started 15 games as a Chicago rookie quarterback in 2005 and hasn't played since, will return to the role Monday against Minnesota.

* San Francisco quarterback Trent Dilfer is unlikely to play against Cincinnati on Saturday after incurring a concussion.

* Star linebacker Shawne Merriman will miss San Diego's home game against Detroit because of a sprained ligament in his left knee.

* Buffalo safety George Wilson will miss the rest of the regular season with two broken ribs.

* The Washington-Minnesota game on Dec. 23, a matchup with potential NFC playoff implications, will become the Sunday night game on NBC. It replaces the Tampa Bay-San Francisco game, which moves to 4:05 p.m. on Fox. That day's game between Miami and New England, which could match a 14-0 team with an 0-14 one, is moving from 1 to 4:15 p.m. on CBS. *