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NFL: Steelers trounce lowly Panthers

Ben Roethlisberger showed off Pittsburgh's deep passing game and the host Steelers inched closer to a division title and a first-round playoff bye, beating the Carolina Panthers, 27-3, on Thursday night.

Ben Roethlisberger showed off Pittsburgh's deep passing game and the host Steelers inched closer to a division title and a first-round playoff bye, beating the Carolina Panthers, 27-3, on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh (11-4) will wrap up the AFC North and the bye if it beats Cleveland on Jan. 2. The Browns (5-9) could end the division race even earlier than that if they upset the Ravens (10-4) at home on Sunday.

Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace on a 43-yard scoring play and Emmanuel Sanders on a 35-yard completion to set up Rashard Mendenhall's 1-yard touchdown run as the Steelers opened a 20-0 halftime lead.

It didn't seem that close and it wasn't, not with the Steelers outgaining the Panthers (2-13) by a more than 3-1 margin.

Sanchez game-time call. The New York Jets might have to try to clinch a playoff spot this weekend without Mark Sanchez.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said Thursday that Sanchez's sore shoulder was worse than he first thought, though he still expected the quarterback to start Sunday at Chicago. If not, 40-year-old Mark Brunell would be under center.

"This one could be more of a game-time type decision than I thought it would be," Ryan said.

The Jets (10-4) will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Bears (10-4) at Soldier Field.

Sanchez was limited in practice for the second straight day and "never had a ton of zip" on his passes, Ryan said.

Meanwhile, Jets owner Woody Johnson said that Ryan has his full support, a day after the embarrassed coach declined comment about a foot-fetish report posted by the sports website Deadspin.

Four videos of a woman, who bears a close resemblance to Ryan's wife, Michelle, show her displaying her toes to an offscreen cameraman who sounds a lot like the coach. Ryan said Wednesday it was a "personal matter."

Johnson thinks so, too.

"My reaction is, I don't really want to talk about that," he said. "I'm going to respect Rex and how he wanted to characterize it. It's a personal matter, and that's the way it is."

Johnson said he has offered Ryan his support.

Dumervil in dispute. Broncos Pro Bowl linebacker Elvis Dumervil has been cited for assault and disturbing the peace for an alleged run-in with a security guard at Invesco Field.

Denver court records show the reported incident happened on Oct. 24, the day the Broncos were blown out, 59-14, by the Oakland Raiders.

Dumervil's lawyer, Harvey Steinberg, told the Associated Press the linebacker forgot his credentials and a guard wouldn't allow him into a players' parking lot, despite Dumervil's showing his driver's license.

Steinberg said Thursday that it was a simple disagreement and that it was "unfair Elvis is being villainized." The incident was first reported by Denver's KDVR-TV.

"Elvis was never arrested, simply given a ticket," Steinberg said.

Dumervil has already appeared in court once and is set to appear again Jan. 11.

Addai hopeful of return. Colts running back Joseph Addai expects to return Sunday at Oakland after missing the last eight games with a nerve injury in his left shoulder.

Linebacker Clint Session also is likely to play after missing the last seven games with a broken arm and a dislocated elbow.

Niners go with Troy Smith. The San Francisco 49ers are going back to Troy Smith as their starting quarterback while leaving open the possibility they might switch to Alex Smith at any time.

Coach Mike Singletary said that Troy Smith would start Sunday's pivotal NFC West game against the St. Louis Rams in place of Alex Smith, who started San Francisco's last two games.

Dawkins eyes return. Tender knee and all, Brian Dawkins has a bounce in his step again.

After sitting out for three straight games, the emotional leader of the Denver Broncos is raring to go. Dawkins was ducking and dancing to the music at practice, as antsy as a rookie even though he's in his 15th season.

Despite a season full of nagging knee injuries, the former Eagle fully anticipates returning for another year.

Not that he's focusing on that just yet.

There are still games to be played, and being sidelined has only fueled the hard-hitting safety even more, especially in light of the team's worst slide in four decades.