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In a season in which the Orioles have had many, many bad days, yesterday had to rank near the top (or bottom, however you want to characterize it).

Strike One: The Orioles said yesterday that one-time Cy Young Award candidate Erik Bedard will miss the rest of the season with a strained right oblique muscle.

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Strike Two: Probably ditto for starter Jeremy Guthrie, who had an All-Star caliber first half of the season. Guthrie suffered a pull of the left oblique muscle in yesterday 3-2 loss to Boston.

Strike Three: Outfielder Jay Gibbons, who had season-ending shoulder surgery last month, was named in an SI.com article yesterday as having received human growth hormone and testosterone after the substances were banned by Major League Baseball.

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There was a time not so long ago that Orioles fans could delude themselves into thinking this team may be two or three players away from contending. Only the most optimistic of followers can really believe that now. Only one team in the majors has fewer wins than the O's and being overtaken by Tampa Bay is definitely a possibility. Anyone who doesn't realize that team president Andy MacPhail is going to blow up this roster in the offseason -- if he can -- is kidding himself.

The good news is that the NFL season is in full bloom and the Ravens open the season against the Bengals in Cincinnati tonight.

* During the offseason, the Patriots were projected as the heavy favorite to win the AFC and the Super Bowl. Yesterday, they showed they were deserving of all those glowing previews. The Patriots demolished the Jets, their closest rival in the AFC East, 38-14, and on the road no less. Tom Brady was 22-for-28 for 297 yards and two TDs; the New England defense held the Jets to 227 yards and had five sacks; and new Patriot Randy Moss had his best game in four years with nine catches for 183 yards and a touchdown.

* At the other end of the spectrum, the Atlanta Falcons' debut was as putrid as their offseason would suggest. With former quarterback Michael Vick awaiting sentencing on dogfighting-related charges, his replacement, Joey Harrington, struggled in a 24-3 loss to Minnesota. Harrington was 23-for-32 for 199 yards, but those numbers were overshadowed by two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. To make matters worse for the Falcons, the QB they traded away just before the Vick affair got really ugly, Matt Schaub, helped Houston to a 20-3 win over Kansas City. Schaub was 16-for-22 for 225 yards, a 77-yard touchdown and an interception.

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