American Football: Murray mints a silver lining for Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos won their first-round games in the NFL play-offs, but did so in vividly contrasting circumstances on Saturday. The Broncos won comfortably, trouncing the Jacksonville Jaguars 42-17 at their Mile High Stadium, while the Vikings, having trailed for most of the match, beat the New York Giants 23-22 in the closing seconds of a remarkable game at the Meadowlands.

The Giants led 22-13 with just 90 seconds remaining when Randall Cunningham threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jake Reed. The Vikes then recovered an onside kick and soon afterwards Eddie Murray converted a 24-yard field goal to secure the team's first play-off victory under their head coach, Dennis Green. They now play the 49ers in San Francisco on Saturday.

Cunningham, the former Philadelphia Eagle who was playing for the injured Brad Johnson, had began the match desperately, causing three turnovers, including fumbles on successive plays, as the Giants cruised into a 19- 3 half-time lead.

However as the Vikings began to have more success in the second half so the young Giants side started to self-destruct. At one point their defensive backs Phillippi Sparks and Conrad Hamilton became involved in a heated confrontation on the field, which required team-mates to pull them apart and the team to squander a time out.

"There was a sense of frustration that set in right there and I will deal with that," the Giants head coach, Jim Fassel, said. "We lost our composure at that time."

The bickering between the pair was over a missed coverage, but players said there was also anger over a Tikki Barber fumble.

"I can't think of a greater group of players and coaches," Green said. "We never gave up. We fought to the finish. We did a great job of stopping the run in the second half. We had to make big plays. Jake Reed made a big play, Cris Carter made a big play and we got a big onsides kick."

In Denver the Broncos gained a measure of revenge for their defeat by the Jaguars in the play-offs last year. They took a 21-0 lead in the second quarter, but then watched the visitors fight back to 21-17. The Jags were poised to go ahead when their quarterback, Mark Brunell, fumbled the snap.

The Broncos never looked back and with their running back Terrell Davis gaining 187 yards before leaving the game because of bruised ribs they won with something to spare.

"This was not revenge," the Broncos head coach, Mike Shanahan, said. "We do not use the term revenge. I don't think getting even was the idea."

l Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, and Barry Sanders, the Detroit Lions running back, are the joint winners of the NFL's Most Valuable Player award, the first time the distinction has been shared since 1960.

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