American Football: New England bounce back but Tampa Bay lose again

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Launching into a new season with a winning sequence can start to become such a burden that defeat can come almost as a relief. Fanciful notions of invincibility swept away, a club can get back to reality and put pursuit of a place in the Super Bowl in perspective.

So it was with New England. The Patriots won their first four games this season, outscoring mostly weak opponents 130-40. Then they ran into Denver Broncos, themselves unbeaten, and lost 34-13. "You can't sit there and linger and lick your wounds all week and pout about it," running back Keith Byars said after the Patriots bounced back Sunday with a 33-6 win over the Buffalo Bills to stay a game ahead of Miami at the top of the AFC East.

Drew Bledsoe threw two touchdown passes and Curtis Martin ran for 99 yards for the Patriots, who intercepted four passes from Buffalo back- ups Billy Joe Hobert and Alex Van Pelt. They came in for Todd Collins, who left with a bruised left shoulder on Buffalo's second possession. "I was too excited," said Hobert, who had not thrown a pass this season before Sunday.

If the Buccaneers licked their wounds after their joint best start to the season ended in defeat against Green Bay last week, they have some more licking to do. They lost again Sunday, 27-9 at home to Detroit. Now 5-2, they have dropped into a tie for first place in the NFC Central.

"We need to keep improving," quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "The last three weeks, I think we've taken a step backwards... We're still in good position. Nobody's hanging their head. But our goal is to get better every week, regardless of whether we win or lose."

Barry Sanders a three-times National Football League rushing champion, ran for 215 yards and scored three touchdowns as Detroit ended Tampa Bay's eight-game run of wins at home. Sanders, scored on runs of 80 and 82 yards and caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Scott Mitchell. Sanders, who was held to 20 yards in a loss to the Bucs earlier this season, moved ahead of Jim Brown into fourth place on the league's career rushing list.

Sander was not the star on Sunday. The lead role fell to Jacksonville's James Stewart, who became the fourth player to run for at least five touchdowns in a game as the Jaguars beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-21.

Stewart scored on runs of seven, eight, two, one and one yards in Florida, and became the first player to rush for five touchdowns since Buffalo's Cookie Gilchrist on 8 December 1963, against the New York Jets. Ernie Nevers and Jim Brown are the only other players with at least five and Nevers has the record with six.

"I can't be mentioned with those guys," said Stewart, who ran for 102 yards on 15 carries after replacing injured starter Natrone Means. "They're all great running backs. My career is young."

Stewart ran for three first-quarter scores as the Jaguars jumped into a 21-0 lead.

Green Bay escaped with a 24-23 win in Chicago as the Bears failed to convert a two-point conversion with 1min 54sec remaining.

Brett Favre passed for three touchdowns and Green Bay (5-2) took advantage of Chicago's unsuccessful gamble to move into a first-place tie with Tampa Bay in the NFC Central.

The Bears pulled within a point with 1:54 to go on Erik Kramer's 22-yard touchdown pass to Chris Penn. The coach, Dave Wannstedt, went for the lead, but Kramer's short pass sailed over Raymont Harris.

In other games, Atlanta won their first game of the season, beating New Orleans 23-17, Miami beat the New York Jets 31-20, Tennessee beat Cincinnati 30-7 and Pittsburgh beat winless Indianapolis 24-22.

Baltimore, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego and Seattle did not play on Sunday.