American football: Defense the key for Bucs and Patriots

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The Independent Online
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots shut down their opponents' most dangerous offensive players on Sunday to emerge victorious in their respective NFL play-off wild card games.

The Buccaneers, appearing in their first play-off game in 15 years, bottled up the elusive Barry Sanders and used a balanced offense to beat the Detroit Lions 20-10 in the NFC match-up.

"It feels great, we've come a long way," said the Bucs coach, Tony Dungy. "Our defense did a great job with everything, and our offense in the first half did a great job controlling the ball."

In Foxboro, Massachusetts, the Patriots hounded the Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino with constant pass-rushing pressure and came away with a 17- 3 win after sacking Marino four times in their AFC game.

"This is as good as you hope your `D' can play," said the Patriots coach, Pete Carroll, about his defense. "I just hope we can keep this up."

Sanders, who this season became the third player to rush for more than 2,000 yards, gained just 65 yards on 18 carries for the Lions, who again had a player taken off on a stretcher.

Quarterback Scott Mitchell lay motionless on the field for some 15 minutes after taking a blow to the head late in the third quarter. He was later diagnosed as having concussion.

Detroit's play-off-clinching defeat of the New York Jets last week has been overshadowed by a spinal injury that ended the career of linebacker Reggie Brown.

Tampa Bay led 20-0 when Mitchell was injured, through touchdowns from Horace Copeland and Mike Alstott and two field goals. Back-up Frank Reich took over at quarterback and engineered a Detroit touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

The defensive job on Sanders ended the running back's record streak of 100-yard-plus games at 14.

Tampa Bay advanced to a divisional play-off at the home of the defending Super Bowl champions, Green Bay Packers, on Sunday. New England earned a match at the AFC Central champions, Pittsburgh Steelers, on Saturday.

The rest of the play-off picture has the Minnesota Vikings going to San Francisco to meet the 49ers on Saturday, while the Denver Broncos play their AFC semi-final in Kansas City against the Chiefs on Sunday.