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View from the top

Lions team to beat in NFC after win over Rams

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Posted: Sunday November 07, 1999 07:33 PM

  Gus Frerotte completed 12 of 16 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, while filling in for starter Charlie Batch. AP

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) -- The surprising Detroit Lions, despite the retirement of Barry Sanders and mounting injuries, keep finding new heroes. As a result, they lead the NFC.

In a wild shootout Sunday, backup quarterback Gus Frerotte tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Morton with 28 seconds remaining as the Lions beat the St. Louis Rams 31-27 for their fourth straight victory.

The win pulled the Lions (6-2) even with the equally surprising Rams (6-2) atop the conference, but gives Detroit a tie-breaking win.

"We proved today that we are for real," Lions safety Ron Rice said. "One of the best teams in the NFL just came in here and got beat."

Frerotte, who completed 12 of 16 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, played the entire second half because Charlie Batch -- who passed for 148 yards and one touchdown in the first half -- sprained the thumb on his throwing hand.

On the winning drive, the Lions went 77 yards in 10 plays, the biggest of which was a 57-yard toss to Germane Crowell in front of Rams cornerback Dexter McCleon from a fourth-and-28 situation at the Lions 21.

"On 4th-and-25 or whatever it was, you just throw it up and let the guys run under it," Frerotte said. "It looked like both of their guys fell down and Germane was just standing there by himself.

"That was an amazing play. I just held the ball as long as I could and let it go."

McCleon was devastated by his mistake.

"I take full responsibility," he said. "I just got caught looking back at the quarterback and I lost sight of him. I should have been a lot deeper than I was."

Detroit also benefited from a 21-yard pass interference call against McCleon that gave the Lions a first down at the 12. Detroit scored on the next snap.

"It was all me," McCleon said. "I should have been back there, should have broken up the play. The game should have been over."

Kurt Warner, who was 24-of-41 for 305 yards and three touchdowns, tried to bring the Rams back one last time, but he was picked off by Ron Rice with two seconds remaining.

"We knew it was going to be a battle," Warner said. "We knew it was going to be a great game, and it was."

The Rams, who have lost two straight after a 6-0 start this season, led 12-10 at halftime, but an interception by Terry Fair set up a 2-yard TD toss from Frerotte to Cory Schlesinger. Jason Hanson's 43-yard field goal gave Detroit a 21-12 lead with 4:49 left in the third quarter.

The Rams closed it to 21-19 on a 75-yard bomb from Warner to Az-Zahir Hakim early in the fourth quarter.

Hanson's 44-yarder put Detroit ahead 24-19 with 6:10 remaining, but the Rams answered with an 87-yard, eight-play drive climaxed by Warner's 2-yard TD toss to Ryan Tucker, a backup left tackle who was eligible on the play. A 2-point PAT gave the Rams a 27-24 lead with 2:42 left.

"I thought our guys battled back real nice and took command of the ballgame," Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. "I thought we were going to win it."

The Lions had other ideas.

A well-aimed 50-yard punt by Rick Tuten pinned the Lions inside their own 1 midway through the first quarter. On the first snap, Rams linebacker London Fletcher broke in and tackled Greg Hill for a safety, giving St. Louis a 2-0 lead.

The rest of the first half was wide-open football, the kind that made these two teams the surprise of the NFC through the first half of the season.

Batch was 5-of-8 for 80 yards, including a 4-yard TD toss to Crowell for a 7-2 Detroit lead on the second snap of the second quarter.

With Warner hitting 4-of-5 for 64 yards, the Rams answered with an 81-yard drive in just six plays, climaxed by Warner's 6-yard TD pass to Jeff Robinson that restored the Rams' two-point lead.

Hanson gave Detroit a 10-9 lead with a 29-yard field goal, but Jeff Wilkins put the Rams up 12-10 on a 34-yarder with 41 seconds left in the half.

Notes: Teen singing stars the Backstreet Boys attended Sunday's game and had an informal field-goal kicking contest on the field afterward. They were in town for a weekend set of concerts . . . Detroit finished the game with three injured defensive backs, not counting Bryant Westbrook, who returned after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Kevin Abrams (foot) missed the game, while Lamar Campbell and Terry Fair both left with leg injuries. Little-used special-teamers Corwin Brown and Ty Talton finished the game in Detroit's dime package . . . Tuten tried to punt after injuring his quadriceps muscle earlier in the week. But after several poor punts, he was replaced by Wilkins. That also forced starting free safety Keith Lyle into the game as Wilkins' holder.

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