Lions play the Bucs in NFC Central showdown

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like so many predictions this season, the general consensus that the Detroit Lions would be a disaster after Barry Sanders announced his retirement in July, has been a bust.

Like so many predictions this season, the general consensus that the Detroit Lions would be a disaster after Barry Sanders announced his retirement in July, has been a bust.

The Lions are 8-4, three victories more than last year, and go to Tampa on Sunday with the NFC Central Division lead on the line. The winner will be at least a game atop the division and in great shape for at least a wild-card playoff berth.

The 14th round of the American National Football League season opened Thursday with Tennesse's 21-14 victory over visiting Oakland.

In other games Sunday, Arizona is at Washington; Baltimore at Pittsburgh; Carolina at Green Bay; Cleveland at Cincinnati; New England at Indianapolis; the New York Giants at Buffalo; Philadelphia at Dallas; St. Louis at New Orleans; San Diego at Seattle; Miami at the New York Jets; Atlanta at San Francisco; and Minnesota at Kansas City.

Denver is at Jacksonville on Monday night.

Chicago has the week off.

Both Detroit and Tampa are getting help from unexpected sources.

The Lions got a 68-yard punt return from Desmond Howard in last week's 33-17 victory over Washington after they signed him just two minutes before the 4 p.m. Saturday deadline. They've also gotten an unexpectedly good performance from quarterback Gus Frerotte, who has led the team to a 4-2 record while filling in for Charlie Batch, who won't play until his injured right thumb is completely healed.

That's unlikely to be this week.

"I want to play, there's no question about that," Batch says. "I'm itching to get out there, but right now it's wait and see."

There's little sympathy among the Bucs, who will have rookie Shaun King at quarterback for the second straight week in place of Trent Dilfer, out with a broken collarbone.

Coach Tony Dungy is giving the full playbook to King, who threw two TD passes but totaled just 93 yards in the 24-17 victory over Minnesota on Monday night. Most of the work was done by the defense and Mike Alstott, who ran for 95 yards in 23 carries.

"He's a young, mature athlete - very bright," Alstott says of King. Wide receiver Jacquez Green adds, "He throws a nice, catchable ball. I wasn't surprised he did so well. Our offense isn't that complicated and he can do it all."

The defense and Alstott are still the main weapons for Tampa Bay (8-4), which lost 20-3 in Detroit in the first meeting. And there's always Eric Zeier, Dilfer's backup, whose bruised ribs might be healed soon.

But ...

"Shaun knows if he keeps playing well, he'll keep playing," says coach Tony Dungy. "That's probably the bottom line."

Comments