The Detroit Lions keep losing running backs and winning games.
Overcoming the early departure of Ron Rivers to a broken ankle, the Lions rode a strong performance by Charlie Batch and their defense to stay atop the NFC Central with a 24-9 victory over the Carolina Panthers yesterday in Charlotte.
Batch threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns and the Lions defense repeatedly made big plays against a team coming off its first back-to-back 30-point games in franchise history. Five times the Panthers drove to the Detroit 3-yard line or closer, but they came away with just three field goals.
Rivers, who had emerged as the Lions' top runner following the offseason retirement of Barry Sanders, rushed just once, losing two yards before leaving with what was originally diagnosed as a sprained right ankle. But later X-rays showed a fracture, and Coach Bobby Ross said Rivers's season is likely finished.
His replacement, Greg Hill, rushed for 70 yards, helping the Lions to their second 4-2 start in four years. Batch, showing no ill effects of a throwing-arm bruise that forced him out of last week's game, completed 16 of 27 passes.
"We've been down this road before," offensive tackle Ray Roberts said. "We'll just plug Greg Hill and Sedrick Irvin in there and keep on truckin'. We'll be okay."
Carolina (2-4) was penalized nine times and Steve Beuerlein was sacked four times, helping spoil the Panthers' bid to reach .500 for the first time since December 1997.
RAIDERS 24, JETS 23: Rich Gannon, signed to provide steady, mistake-free leadership at quarterback, rallied Oakland rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat New York with 26 seconds left.
Gannon led the Raiders to three touchdowns in the final 16 minutes, throwing a five-yard pass to James Jett to cap the comeback.
The Jets got 123 yards rushing from Curtis Martin and a solid performance by quarterback Rick Mirer.
With Oakland trailing 20-3 late in the third period, Gannon threw a 45-yard scoring pass to Tim Brown, then led the Raiders on an 83-yard drive capped by Zack Crockett's three-yard scoring run.
After John Hall's third field goal for the Jets (1-6), Gannon led a 90-yard drive in the final two minutes.
Gannon was 26 of 51 for 352 yards and led the Raiders (4-3) in rushing with 60 yards on scrambles. Oakland tailback Tyrone Wheatley fumbled twice and was knocked out of the game in the third period with a back injury.
COLTS 31, BENGALS 10: Marvin Harrison, the NFL leader in receptions, caught eight passes for 156 yards, including 56 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, in Indianapolis's victory at home. It was the eighth touchdown reception of the season for Harrison, matching his career high in just the sixth game.
The Colts (4-2), winning their second straight game for the first time in almost two years, also got two short touchdown runs by rookie Edgerrin James and a late touchdown pass by Peyton Manning to Ken Dilger.
The Bengals (1-6) lost Corey Dillon, the NFL rushing leader, with a cut on his right arm in the first half and rookie quarterback Akili Smith with a bruised right shin in the third quarter. Jeff Blake relieved Smith, going 5 of 7 on a 68-yard drive and hitting Darnay Scott for a 10-yard score with 5 minutes 13 seconds to go.
"So many things went wrong," Bengals Coach Bruce Coslet said, "I don't know where to begin."
GIANTS 31, SAINTS 3: Mike Ditka didn't have to worry about blowing another fourth-quarter lead. New York's usually inept offense had shredded New Orleans's defense long before then in East Rutherford, N.J.
Kent Graham ran for a touchdown, then broke the game open by throwing for two more scores in the final 63 seconds of the second quarter as the Giants handed Ditka's team its fifth straight loss. It was the Saints' worst of the season, and it came just a week after the team fined Ditka $20,000 for making obscene gestures to fans at the Superdome after they booed the team.
Unlike the last four games, in which the Saints (1-5) blew the lead in the final quarter, they never led as New York (4-3) finally found the big-play offense it displayed in the preseason.
"Obviously, there is not much you can say about today," Ditka said in a postgame news conference that lasted 80 seconds. "We were disorganized offensively and played just as bad on defense."