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Coach still in kicker's corner

Coach Jon Gruden has not lost faith in kicker Martin Gramatica, who is 2-of-8 from beyond 29 yards this season after missing a crucial 36-yard field goal in the 17-14 loss Sunday.

Gruden said Monday he would wager his life on the right foot of the man nicknamed "Automatica."

"For me, he's the least of my concerns," Gruden said. "I'm stunned any time he misses. Any time he misses from any point on the field, I'm stunned.

"So, he is the least of my concerns, and I would put my life in his hands at any time kicking a field goal."

In addition to Gramatica's miss, the special-teams units made two glaring errors, fumbling a punt return and failing to recover an onside kick to open the second half. The onside kick, Gruden said, was a lack of concentration.

"We're standing on the sideline saying, "Watch the middle dribble, here comes the middle dribble,' and we don't recover it," he said. "We've got some young players who, in certain situations, maybe get a little anxious and lose sight of their assignments in the most simplistic form.

"Fortunately, our defense got off the field, but it did impact morale and took the life out of the sideline a little bit. That's not good."

INJURY REPORT: Safety Jermaine Phillips, impressive the past two games filling in for injured John Lynch, will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken right forearm.

Lynch, inactive the past two games because of nerve damage in his right shoulder, was upgraded to probable and will resume contact during practice, Gruden said.

Starting strongside linebacker Ryan Nece sprained his left ankle and is questionable against the Panthers. Gruden said there are "varied opinions" about the severity of the injury. Veteran Dwayne Rudd would start in his place.

Also, offensive tackle Cornell Green (left ankle sprain), safety John Howell (left hamstring strain) and receiver Joe Jurevicius (torn right MCL) are questionable. Running back Michael Pittman (left knee strain), cornerback Hank Poteat (right hamstring strain) and guard Jason Whittle (left shoulder strain) are probable.

Left tackle Roman Oben (broken right hand) is not on the official injury report because he played two weeks ago against the Cowboys, but he did not dress Sunday against the Saints and Gruden said the eighth-year pro was ineffective playing with a cast on his hand.

"We've got to give Jurevicius a kick in the butt, get Lynch back, and hopefully Roman Oben and some others to generate a little more consistency in terms of executing a master plan, like we had coming into the season," Gruden said.

QUOTABLE: "In the locker room after the game with 53 ticked-off players and 18 ticked-off coaches, those are the times you've got to really concentrate. It makes you understand how sweet it is to win. We're close, but as they say, "Close (but) no cigar.' We're all sick, but at the same time, we're all encouraged by the fight in this football team." _ Gruden.

_ JOANNE KORTH

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