The Detroit Lions fired Steve Mariucci as their coach today, four days after a pitiable showing in a Thanksgiving loss to the Atlanta Falcons dropped the team to 4-7.

There were widespread reports after Thursday's defeat that Mariucci could be fired as soon as Friday. He wasn't, but he was dismissed this morning. The club is 15-28 since team president Matt Millen dismissed Marty Mornhinweg to hire Mariucci, his hand-picked coach. Millen was so eager to get Mariucci that he violated the league's rule requiring each team with a coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate, and ended up being fined $200,000 by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Lions defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, the former head coach of the Chicago Bears, likely will take over as the Lions' coach. Mariucci was in the third season of a five-year, $25 million contract.

It was the first coaching change of this season league-wide. Last season, two changes were made during the season, with Miami's Dave Wannstedt and Cleveland's Butch Davis failing to finish what they started. A third coaching change came just after the season with the dismissal of Dennis Erickson in San Francisco. It appears that there could be a half-dozen or more coaching changes league-wide during or after this season.

A Tough Break for Jags

Just when all seemed to be going well for the Jacksonville Jaguars, they face the prospect of playing a month or more without quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich broke his left ankle on the Jaguars' first play of Sunday's triumph at Arizona. Backup David Garrard took over and engineered the 24-17 victory, which extended the 8-3 Jaguars' winning streak to four games. They are in good position to secure a wild-card playoff spot in the AFC, and they face a less-than-demanding schedule for the rest of the regular season.

But now they must prove they can win without Leftwich, their starter at quarterback for most of the past three seasons.

Garrard brings a new dimension to the offense, as he demonstrated Sunday when he ran for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. He is a better athlete than the mostly immobile Leftwich, but he is not as accomplished as a passer. Garrard completed only 12 of 26 passes for 115 yards Sunday.

Garrard has made three starts in four NFL seasons since the Jaguars selected him in the fourth round of the 2002 draft out of East Carolina. Two of them came when Leftwich was hurt last season, when Garrard helped the Jaguars beat the Lions but lost to the Tennessee Titans. He underwent surgery last year for Crohn's disease, an intestinal disorder, and this past offseason he signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract extension to stay in Jacksonville rather than leave himself eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.

The Jaguars seem confident they can continue to win with Garrard in the lineup, and four of their five remaining regular-season games come against teams with losing records (Cleveland, San Francisco, Houston and Tennessee). But with Leftwich sidelined, the Jaguars look like a less-threatening opponent for the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 11.

It's possible that Leftwich's injury will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season. If not, Coach Jack Del Rio could face a difficult decision in the playoffs about whether to stick with Garrard or go back to a potentially rusty Leftwich.

Tampering Allegation Frivolous?

The tampering allegation made by the Philadelphia Eagles against the Dallas Cowboys for comments that owner Jerry Jones made about then-suspended wide receiver Terrell Owens seems unlikely to produce any action by the league.

An NFL spokesman said the league is looking into the matter, and it's possible that the Cowboys could be fined. An extreme case of tampering could lead to the offending team losing a draft pick. NFL clubs reportedly were warned about commenting about Owens.

But far more blatant violations of the tampering rules regularly take place league-wide without being punished, and Jones was noncommittal about his possible interest in signing Owens in the comments that he made.

During an appearance on a radio show 12 days ago, Jones said he was "deliberately avoiding" saying whether the Cowboys would be interested in Owens if he became available. He did hint at his possible interest, however, by saying the Cowboys had some success in the past with supposedly troubled players and a top wide receiver could flourish in Dallas with quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

It seems curious that the Eagles would be asking the league to enforce the tampering rules in Owens's case, when they've made it clear they have no interest in having the wideout play for them again. Their four-game suspension of Owens for conduct detrimental to the team ends today, but they previously announced their plan to deactivate him for the remainder of the season and arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled last week that they could do that. The Eagles are expected to release Owens in the offseason.

No Predicting Feely's Meltdown

Before New York Giants kicker Jay Feely missed three field-goal attempts in the final moments of regulation and overtime of Sunday's loss in Seattle, he had connected on 23 of 25 field goal tries this season. He was 8 for 9 on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more. But he yanked a 40-yard try wide left as time expired in regulation Sunday, then missed from 54 and 45 yards in overtime. Seattle's Josh Brown connected from 36 yards to win the game for the Seahawks.

What really drove Giants Coach Tom Coughlin crazy, though, was his team's 16 penalties Sunday -- including 11 false starts, five of them on left tackle Luke Petitgout. . . .

The Oakland Raiders placed defensive tackle Warren Sapp on the injured reserve list Saturday, ending his season. Sapp hurt his right shoulder during a win over the Washington Redskins eight days ago, and will undergo surgery for a torn rotator cuff.