Bucs honour and obey their old losing vows

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The Independent Online
American football

On a day of intriguing match-ups, the most bewildering took place at Tampa Stadium, where 200 couples were married in a mass ceremony during the half-time break. A shared passion for the Buccaneers is not normally regarded as the guaranteed route to nuptial bliss, although if you can agree that the men in orange are the best team in the NFL, it might be argued that you can agree about anything.

In fact, the Bucs went into their game against the Atlanta Falcons in the unusual position of Division leaders, but true to form, they made a mess of 200 special days, losing 24-21, their first defeat in five games. Perhaps someone ordered a traditional wedding.

Atlanta's victory was enough to give them the joint lead of an extremely competitive NFC West. The St Louis Rams began Sunday as clear leaders, but in a match that was billed as the return of Elvis, all the big hits came from the San Francisco 49ers.

The Elvis in question was Grbac, the phonetically challenged 49ers back-up quarterback. His presence for the injured Steve Young, plus a couple of unforeseen defeats, had suggested the Super Bowl champions might be vulnerable against the rejuvenated Rams.

We should have known better. The 49ers intercepted Chris Miller four times in a 44-10 rout, with Ken Norton returning a couple of them for touchdowns. "We wanted to make a statement and the defense is where we wanted to make it," Norton said. Grbac lobbed a couple of scoring passes, one each to John Taylor and Jerry Rice.

If the 49ers found a way to bounce back from adversity, the Miami Dolphins now find themselves knee-deep in it. Three weeks ago, having started the season 4-0, their defeat by Indianapolis could be dismissed as a hiccup. Two further defeats and the bout is threatening to become terminal. Last week, they were beaten by the previously winless New Orleans Saints, and on Sunday they managed to further lower themselves by losing to the New York Jets, widely regarded as the most inept side in the league (which only makes you wonder what the Dolphins currently are).

Bernie Kosar, replacing Dan Marino for a second week, threw three interceptions and turned the ball over three times in the last six minutes as the Dolphins' demise reached crisis proportions. The only good news for Miami is that Marino, who has missed all three defeats, is expected to return from his knee and hip injuries next week.

Both expansion teams recorded victories, as they continue to defy the doubters who suggested that they would end the season with a handful of wins between them. The Carolina Panthers started their first winning streak, after beating the Saints 21-3, while the Jacksonville Jaguars won their third game in four, 23-15 over the Browns. The Jags are now only half a game off the lead in the lamentable AFC Central, in which every team has a losing record.

NFL (home teams first): St Louis 10 San Francisco 44; Carolina 20 New Orleans 3; NY Jets 17 Miami 16; Chicago 35 Houston 32; Cleveland 15 Jacksonville 23; Washington 36 Detroit 30 (ot); Tampa Bay 21 Atlanta 24; Denver 7 Kansas City 21; Seattle 25 San Diego 35; Green Bay 38 Minnesota 21. Did not play: Arizona, Dallas, Philadelphia, NY Giants.