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Jags' Peterson eager to return from broken hand against Patriots

Linebacker Mike Peterson said after Jacksonville's 31-29 win at Pittsburgh that he was going to play this weekend. Coach Jack Del Rio wasn't nearly as optimistic.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Linebacker Mike Peterson said after Jacksonville's 31-29 win at Pittsburgh that he was going to play this weekend.

Coach Jack Del Rio wasn't nearly as optimistic.

"I think you call that chomping at the bit," Del Rio said. "We'll see. Until the doctor clears him, it's not even really a discussion. I appreciate that. I know he's hungry to play. He had some words for the team. He traveled with us. He's very much a part of it."

Peterson missed the past seven games with a broken right hand. The team's top tackler and defensive leader broke several bones in his hand Nov. 18 against San Diego, but stayed in the game and played with pain.

The Jaguars could have put Peterson on injured reserve to open up a roster spot, but they held out hope he would return for the playoffs.

It could happen Saturday night at unbeaten New England.

Peterson believes it will. Although he was still wearing a cast in Pittsburgh, he said he expected it to be removed this week. He was counting on receiving medical clearance and returning to practice as early as Tuesday.

"I'll be ready," Peterson said. "Everybody knows I'll be ready."

The Jaguars could use the help, especially against the league's No. 1 offense.

Although Jacksonville's defense has allowed fewer yards without Peterson -- the unit gave up 351 yards a game with him in the lineup through 10 games and just 264 yards a game since -- teammates and coaches know the Jaguars are better with No. 54 on the field.

They have allowed nearly four fewer points a game with Peterson.

"Hopefully he'll be back," rookie linebacker Justin Durant said. "Mike's got so much intensity, plays with so much passion. He leaves it all on the field every time he goes out there. If he comes back, it's going to be another step for us in a positive direction."

Peterson has 116 tackles this season, still third on the team behind safety Sammy Knight and Daryl Smith.

But cheering from the sideline has become an all-too-familiar position for the former second-round draft pick and Florida Gators standout.

Peterson missed 11 games last season because of a torn chest muscle, a main reason the team struggled down the stretch, ended with a three-game losing streak and missed the playoffs. His latest injury was easier to deal with, mostly because he wasn't placed on IR and figured he would return.

"It's still killing me," he said. "I want to play. I want to be out there doing my thing."

His teammates can sense his frustration, too.

"When he's on the sidelines, I can just see it in his face and hear it in his voice that he really wants to be out there," Durant said. "I can tell by his actions and everything. I told him (Sunday night) that, 'We're going to find a way to get you back out there.' Hopefully we can keep going until he's able to get back out there."

It could be this week.

Then again, the Jaguars don't want to find themselves in the same situation they were in two years ago against the Patriots.

Peterson broke a bone in his right wrist in a meaningless regular-season finale and played a wild-card game at New England with his hand heavily taped. It kept him from wrapping up tight end Ben Watson on a short throw in the third quarter.

Watson broke out of Peterson's grasp and rumbled 63 yards for a touchdown that many considered the turning point in Jacksonville's 28-3 loss.

"I know he's chomping at the bit, but we've got to do the right thing," Del Rio said. "The first thing in this process is to get clearance from the doctors. Until we get that, it's not even something we can discuss."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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