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For Lions, Tip Is Worth a Victory

November 23, 1998|From Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — No one was sure who tipped the ball. All that mattered was that it wound up in Detroit safety Ron Rice's hands.

"I don't know if it was our guy or their guy," Rice said after his game-saving interception in the end zone enabled the Lions to hold 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."

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 Buccaneers 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 Buccaneer touchdown was a Detroit lineman got a hand on it too.

"I really couldn't tell," Buccaneer 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 swept the season series between the NFC Central rivals despite not getting a big game from Barry Sanders.

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 also intercepted a second Dilfer pass that glanced off the hands of tight end Patrick Hape to set up Tommy Vardell's one-yard touchdown run for a 28-17 lead.

The Lions' Charlie Batch completed 14 of 23 passes for 195 yards, including first-quarter touchdown throws of 53 yards to Germane Crowell and three yards to Walter Rasby.

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

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