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Lions Chalk Up First Road Win


No one was sure who tipped the ball. All that mattered to the Lions and Buccaneers was that it wound up in Ron Rice's hands.

"I don't know if it was our guy or their guy," the Detroit safety said after his game-saving interception in the end zone held off Tampa Bay 28-25 Sunday.

"We were in desperate need of a play ... They tipped it. I saw it floating and said, 'OK, I've got a chance to get this ball,' and got it."

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  • Television replays didn't make it much easier to tell what happened to Tampa Bay's chances for a last-minute victory.

    Trent Dilfer, who moved the Bucs from their 31 to the Lions 11 with just over two minutes left, appeared to throw behind an open receiver inside the 5.

    But the quarterback and intended target Jacquez Green, who reached back and slightly tipped the ball, insisted the only thing that prevented a Bucs touchdown was a Detroit lineman got a hand on it, too.

    "I really couldn't tell," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said. "We had a good play called. Jacquez was open. But we just didn't execute it properly, and that was the game."

    The Lions (4-7) swept the season series between the NFC Central rivals despite not getting a big day from Barry Sanders, who has rushed for more yards against the Bucs (4-7) than any other opponent.

    Germane Crowell
    Lions receiver Germane Crowell pulls in a 53-yard Charlie Batch touchdown pass in front of the Bucs' Donnie Abraham (21). (AP)

    Instead, Detroit got a brief impersonation of the NFC's rushing leader from Ron Rivers, who scored on a 36-yard run after a winded Sanders loosened up the defense the previous play with one of his juking, sideline-to-sideline bursts.

    "It got a little scary," Sanders said of the dramatic finish. "The only way we were able to win was with a complete team effort. That stop by the defense at the end made all the difference in the world."

    Detroit (4-7) also intercepted a second Dilfer pass that glanced off the hands of tight end Patrick Hape to set up Tommy Vardell's 1-yard TD run for a 28-17 lead.

    Charlie Batch completed 14 of 23 passes for 195 yards, including first-quarter TD throws of 53 yards to Germane Crowell and 3 yards to Walter Rasby.

    While the Bucs stopped Sanders' string of five consecutive 100-yard games by limiting him to 66 yards on 21 attempts, Rivers' 36-yard run was a career long and doubled his yardage for the entire season.

    "It's very disheartening," said Dilfer, who didn't feel the Bucs, who have lost three straight, played poorly.

    "There habe been some tough losses this season, and most of them have been because we haven't played very well or made a lot of mistakes. ... Sometimes being good is not good enough in this league. Today, it wasn't."

    Dilfer threw touchdown passes to Green and Dave Moore and finished with 16 completions in 30 attempts for 283 yards. Tampa Bay outgained Detroit 428 yards to 300, but two turnovers to the Lions' none made a difference.

    Tampa Bay's defense began the day without three starters, including All-Pro middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson, who is hospitalized and will miss at least four games because of inflammation of the sac around his heart.

    The Bucs lost a fourth starter when cornerback Donnie Abraham, beaten by Crowell for Detroit's first touchdown, limped to the sideline with a sprained left knee.

    Batch took advantage, completing his first seven passes en route to a 14-0 lead. Meanwhile, Sanders got off to a strong start and set up two of Detroit's three first-half touchdowns with runs of 19 and 18 yards.

    But unlike two months ago, when Tampa Bay was held to a season-low 133 yards in a 27-6 loss to the LionsDilfer led the Bucs back with first-half TD passes of 44 yards to Green and 8 yards to Moore.

    An eight-minute drive that produced Michael Husted's 33-yard field goal trimmed Tampa Bay's deficit to 21-17, setting the stage for an exciting finish.

    Undaunted by Richard Jordan's interception that led to Vardell's TD and put Detroit up 28-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Bucs countered with a long TD drive to stay in the game. Alstott scored on a 5-yard run and Dilfer's 2-point conversion pass to Reidel Anthony made it 28-25 with just under 11 minutes to go.

    Notes

    Rookie Jamie Duncan replaced Nickerson in Tampa Bay's lineup and had nine tackles ... Crowell made his second start for the Lions, replacing the injured Herman Moore (groin), who did not dress ... Detroit nose tackle Dan Owens dislocated his right knee in the third quarter. He was taken to a hospital for further examination.

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