An MRI exam taken early yesterday on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's left knee showed that he did not suffer a serious injury late in Monday night's last-second triumph at San Diego, according to the team.

Roethlisberger has a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise, according to the Steelers. That leaves his status for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field in doubt but should not keep him sidelined for a lengthy period. Roethlisberger, who is 16-1 as a starter in the regular season, led the Steelers to the AFC title game last season as a rookie.

Steelers Coach Bill Cowher acknowledged during a news conference that his club's outlook at quarterback appeared to be a "dire situation" at one point early yesterday but called the diagnosis of Roethlisberger's injury "a deep sigh of relief." Cowher didn't rule out having Roethlisberger or injured backup Tommy Maddox available to play against the Jaguars but called third-string quarterback Charlie Batch "the starter by default" for now. Maddox suffered a calf injury during practice Friday.

Roethlisberger left Monday's game with just over a minute to play after being hit by Chargers rookie defensive tackle Luis Castillo on a completion to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El. Batch entered the game and handed off three times to tailback Jerome Bettis to set up Jeff Reed's 40-yard field goal with six seconds left that gave the Steelers a 24-22 win and improved their record to 3-1.

Batch made 46 starts for Detroit between 1998 and 2001 but has thrown only eight regular season passes for the Steelers over the past three-plus seasons, all of them in 2003.

Ricky's Back

Ricky Williams returns to the NFL this week.

The Miami Dolphins tailback has completed a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, making him eligible to play in Sunday's game in Tampa against the Buccaneers.

Williams last played in a regular season NFL game on Dec. 28, 2003, when he rushed for 73 yards on 20 carries in Miami's triumph over the New York Jets. He sat out last season after informing former Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt just before training camp that he was retiring, but he returned to the club this summer and seems to be on good terms with new coach Nick Saban.

He comes back to a team that no longer needs him to be its offensive centerpiece. Rookie tailback Ronnie Brown, the second overall choice in the NFL draft in April, has totaled 229 rushing yards in the past two games, although he lost a key fumble in Sunday's 20-14 loss at Buffalo that dropped the Dolphins' record to 2-2. . . .

Rams Coach Mike Martz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he will be absent from the team for at least six weeks. Martz, on his doctor's orders, took an indefinite leave of absence Monday so he can be treated for what's been diagnosed as a bacterial infection of his heart.

He said last week that doctors believed he was suffering from endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the lining of the heart or a heart valve. Martz said last week that further tests were needed to confirm the diagnosis, but he had begun to be treated with antibiotics. Martz checked into a hospital Monday afternoon and was told by doctors that he must remain there four to 12 days.

Joe Vitt, the Rams' assistant head coach and linebackers coach who ran the two practices last week that Martz missed, has taken over as the interim coach. Offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild will assume Martz's offensive play-calling duties, and defensive coordinator Larry Marmie will continue to run the defense.

Last week, Vitt merely implemented the practice plans left for him by Martz. This time, Martz will stay away completely and will have no input in the daily running of the team or formulating game plans, according to the club.

Deuce Is Done

The New Orleans Saints have lost the player they could least afford to lose -- tailback Deuce McAllister. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's 52-3 loss at Green Bay and is expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the season. McAllister is seeking another opinion from Birmingham orthopedist James Andrews.

Just before training camp, the Saints made McAllister one of the league's highest-paid running backs by signing him to an eight-year, $50.1 million contract extension. He became the franchise's career rushing leader earlier this season.

The Saints had decided entering the season that they wanted to change their offensive personality from finesse to power and hand the ball as often as possible to McAllister. That would keep the ball in the hands of their most dependable player -- and, they hoped, prevent error-prone quarterback Aaron Brooks from feeling that he had to win games single-handedly. The approach worked well in the Saints' two wins, at Carolina in the season opener and in San Antonio against the Bills 10 days ago.

But Sunday's lopsided defeat to the Packers dropped the Saints' record to 2-3. The strain of their vagabond existence perhaps showed in their performance in Green Bay: Going back to the final two preseason games, the Saints have played their last seven games in seven different cities. When they host the Atlanta Falcons this weekend in San Antonio, it will mark the first time since Hurricane Katrina forced them from New Orleans that the Saints will have played a second game in the same city. They'll turn over their tailback duties to Antowain Smith and Aaron Stecker, and they added depth yesterday by obtaining Jesse Chatman in a trade with Miami. . . .

The Falcons are sorting through their options after losing middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell for the rest of the season because of a torn Achilles' tendon. It's possible that the club will move Keith Brooking or Ike Reese, both veteran outside linebackers, to middle linebacker to replace Hartwell, the team's most significant offseason addition.

Vikings Investigated

The Hennepin County (Minn.) sheriff's department is investigating allegations of criminal sexual conduct by Vikings players after a boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka devolved into an out-of-control party including lap dances and sexual acts, according to an attorney for the charter boat company. The story was reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Stephen Doyle, a lawyer representing the owners of Al and Alma's, a company that charters cruises on the lake, said cornerback Fred Smoot, a former Redskin, and another Vikings player, whom he declined to name, reserved two boats for a nighttime excursion last Thursday.

A woman called police Thursday night to report allegations of "possible prostitution, drugs and live sex acts" on the two boats. According to the police report, the woman, Ann Johnson, said she and her brother's girlfriend served as hostesses on the ships.

Contacted yesterday afternoon by the Pioneer Press, Smoot indicated that the allegations are exaggerated. "It's slanderous," he said. "If [Doyle is] bringing my name up like this, I'm going to sue them. Other than that, I ain't got nothing else to say."

The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger has a hyperextended knee and a bone bruise.