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NFL roundup

©Associated Press
October 28, 2002

Bills 24, Lions 17

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With Drew Bledsoe running the offense, it might be easy to overlook Buffalo's unheralded defense.

Not this time.

Linebacker London Fletcher stuffed James Stewart for no gain on fourth and inches at the Buffalo 20 with 1:52 left.

Travis Henry's fumble set up the Lions' final push.

Bledsoe sealed the win on the next possession, hitting Eric Moulds with a 12-yard pass on third down, allowing Buffalo to run out the clock. Bledsoe, who entered as the league's leading passer, was 21-for-36 for 302 yards and a touchdown, a 59-yarder to Peerless Price.

But the Bills' once-maligned defense came up the biggest.

"They were taking a lot of heat at the start of the season," said Moulds, who had 123 yards receiving. "I think that they have turned it around, saying, 'We're not just going to rely on our offense to carry us.' "

After being blown out the first two games this season, Detroit's past three losses are by a combined 20 points.

"This is five weeks where we've been within one drive of winning the game," rookie quarterback Joey Harrington said. "It's not fun, but you learn we have to be more consistent."

He kept the Lions in the game, driving 46 yards to set up Jason Hanson's 35-yard field goal that cut Buffalo's lead to 24-17 with 3:07 left.

Browns 24, Jets 21

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As Butch Davis left the field, he looked up to the sky. He sensed his team did something special.

Four days after team owner Al Lerner died, Cleveland rallied from an 18-point deficit.

"I told the football team that Al Lerner's life was about things like today," Davis said. "Perseverance, character and never, ever surrendering."

Lerner, a businessman and native New Yorker who brought the Browns back to Cleveland as an expansion team in 1999, died Wednesday at 69.

Quarterback Tim Couch, who engineered the rally with two second-half touchdowns and a 2-point conversion, echoed Davis' thoughts.

"We as players loved Mr. Lerner and wanted to play well for him and his family," said Couch, who finished 33-for-49 for 307 yards.

Phil Dawson's third field goal, from 35 yards, won it with 3:30 left. But the game turned in the third quarter when the Browns scored 15 points to tie it at 21.

Couch shrugged off several near sacks in throwing a 5-yard score to a diving Mark Campbell, then a 4-yarder to rookie Andre' Davis.

Browns defensive lineman Courtney Brown blocked John Hall's 44-yard field goal with 16 seconds left.

Santana Moss returned a punt 63 yards for a score, and Laveranues Coles' spin move resulted in a 37-yard TD as the Jets took a 21-3 lead.

"No excuses, we need results," the Jets' Curtis Martin said.

Titans 30, Bengals 24

CINCINNATI -- Only 3 feet from their first win, the Bengals tripped all over themselves.

Corey Dillon stumbled over his blocker and was tackled inches from the goal line with 1:08 left to ruin Cincinnati's best chance at winning this season.

Steve McNair threw three second-half touchdowns and Tennessee erased a 14-0 first-half deficit against the league's only winless team.

"I thought we'd won," said Dillon, who had 138 yards on 30 carries and saw a huge hole on his final run. "What are you going to do? I got tripped up, and I came up short. (the hole) was so big, I could have took my daughter and my wife through there."

Cincinnati had first-and-goal at the 9. Two runs by Dillon, and Jon Kitna's scramble, put the nose of the ball at the 1-yard line, revving up the crowd of 52,822.

Dillon took the handoff and stumbled over guard Matt O'Dwyer's legs, lunging toward the goal line as he fell. Safety Lance Schulters and two other Titans dived on Dillon as he stretched. A review upheld the official call that the ball was short.

Angry fans threw cups and several plastic beer bottles on the field. Security officials escorted the officials off the field after the game.

"Those guys are 0-and-whatever, but they're playing hard," said Eddie George, who ran for 106 yards. " Another inch, and we're talking about how bad we are, and we're the laughingstock or whatever."

49ers 38, Cardinals 28

SAN FRANCISCO -- Well after the beauty of Terrell Owens' two touchdown catches faded, San Francisco hung on for an ugly victory that kept it atop the NFC West.

The 49ers and Cardinals were tied for first place coming in but the more experienced 49ers scored 24 points, including a 21-yard score by Owens, before the second quarter was a minute old. Owens added another touchdown late in the first half, sprinting through the secondary for a 61-yard score.

"I'm watching in awe in a lot of ways," said quarterback Jeff Garcia, who was 18-for-28 for 252 yards and four touchdowns. "To take a simple slant pass like that and move it all the way for a touchdown T.O. gives us a capacity that very few teams have."

The 49ers, struggling on defense, watched Jake Plummer twice get Arizona within 10 points in the second half. The Cardinals were driving when Ronnie Heard made his third interception with 5:26 left for San Francisco.

Still, in their most important game since their 1998 playoff run, the Cardinals proved their strong start to the season wasn't a fluke.

"I should be disappointed, and I am in a certain way -- but these guys in this room were fighting all the way to the last second," Cardinals safety Kwamie Lassiter said. "We just can't spot a team that many points."

Steelers 31, Ravens 18

BALTIMORE -- An 0-2 start is now almost forgotten after another impressive showing put Pittsburgh alone atop the AFC North. Tommy Maddox completed his first 11 passes and the Steelers scored touchdowns on their first four possessions.

"I don't even remember (0-2). As far as I'm concerned, right now we're just 4-1," said linebacker John Fiala, whose team came within one win of the Super Bowl last season.

"You saw what a championship-caliber team looked like in the first half," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Our guys got schooled."

Maddox threw two touchdowns to Plaxico Burress and Amos Zereoue ran for two scores as Pittsburgh took a 28-3 halftime lead. It was the Steelers' most productive first half since Sept. 8, 1996, when they scored 28 against the Ravens.

The Steelers did very little wrong in the first half, when Maddox picked apart a defense that was forced to play a third straight week without Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.

Zereoue, subbing for an injured Jerome Bettis, ran for 53 yards.

Burress was ejected during a second-quarter altercation that also brought about the ejection of Baltimore's James Trapp, but by then the Steelers had a comfortable lead.

Pittsburgh, 3-1 since Maddox replaced an ineffective Kordell Stewart, has outscored the opposition 93-35 during its three-game winning streak.

Vikings 25, Bears 7

MINNEAPOLIS -- Daunte Culpepper showed patience, and for once Minnesota forced more turnovers than it produced.

Keeping the ball for more than 41 minutes thanks to a surprisingly tough defense, the Vikings handed Chicago its fifth straight loss.

Culpepper was 22-of-29 for 216 yards passing, a touchdown and no interceptions. His fumble was the Vikings' only turnover; Minnesota's defense had a recovered fumble, two interceptions and six sacks. Minnesota's minus-14 turnover differential was the league's worst coming in.

Culpepper committed 16 turnovers coming in and coach Mike Tice indicated he might not have been secure as the starter until Sunday.

"Our quarterback played with a smile on his face," Tice said. "He was determined to show that he should have that job. I'm happy for him."

On the fifth play of Minnesota's first third-quarter drive, Culpepper threw a perfectly placed ball to Randy Moss for a 39-yard score on first and 10 to give the Vikings a 20-0 lead.

Chris Chandler, starting for the injured Jim Miller, didn't have the same success he enjoyed in his last start at the Metrodome, in the NFC championship on Jan. 17, 1999. That day he passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns to lead Atlanta past the Vikings. This time he was 15-for-25 for 176 yards and an interception.

"I feel as awful as everyone else does," Chandler said.

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