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LIONS ENHANCE PLAYOFF HOPES WITH 18-7 DRUBBING OF JETS

SHARE LIONS ENHANCE PLAYOFF HOPES WITH 18-7 DRUBBING OF JETS

While Barry Sanders was going backward much of the time, the Detroit Lions took a big step forward Saturday.

The Lions (8-6) enhanced their playoff chances with an 18-7 victory over the sliding New York Jets. After Art Monk set an NFL record for consecutive games with a reception on New York's first play, the Jets rarely did much against the league's 23rd-ranked defense.Sanders gained 127 yards, many of them on a final drive as Detroit clinched the win with Jason Hanson's fourth field goal, a 23-yarder with 3:02 remaining. Often facing an eight-man front, Sanders was thrown for a loss nine times. But he also had runs of 29, 27 and 22 yards as the Lions remained in the middle of the NFC playoff chase with their third straight victory.

"I've been through stretches like this before," said Sanders, who now has 1,721 yards this season. "You just don't let it worry you. Our offense is well-balanced enough where, sooner or later, we are going to break it open."

That never really happened. But with 15-year veteran Dave Krieg at quarterback, the Lions never lost control, either.

"They sent a lot of guys up front to stop Barry and that opened up the passing game," said Krieg, who completed 18 of 24 passes for 189 yards - at one point hitting 11 straight - and found Sanders for a 5-yard TD.

The bungling Jets (6-8) fell for the third straight week. Their main highlight was Monk's 5-yard catch on the game's opening offensive play. He caught the short pass from Boomer Esiason on a crossing pattern, giving him 178 consecutive games with a reception, breaking Steve Largent's NFL mark.

Other than one long drive in the second quarter, the Jets did nothing offensively. New York's attack showed little interest in keeping alive the team's flickering playoff hopes.

"There's no consistency right now that we can find," coach Pete Carroll said. "We are hurting right now. We didn't throw the ball well today. They were crowding us and we couldn't hit anything up top."

The Lions still think they could wind up atop the NFC Central, even though they trailed Minnesota and Chicago heading into this weekend.

"This team is playing like we are trying to survive," receiver Herman Moore said. "We are in control of our own destiny."

The Lions didn't use Sanders much to get their first score, Hanson's 37-yard field goal.

The star runner was busier on the next scoring drive, a 79-yarder on which Sanders rushed for 24 yards and caught a 5-yard pass in the front corner of the end zone. It was his first TD reception this season.

New York responded with an 81/2-minute drive highlighted by the rushing of its top back, Johnny Johnson. He ran for 33 yards and had an 11-yard reception on an 80-yard march, leading to Brad Baxter's 1-yard TD run on fourth down.

Hanson's 49-yard field goal, his longest of the year, made it 12-7 in the third quarter, when Sanders was held to minus-10 yards rushing. Hanson's 48-yarder with 12 minutes to go made it 15-7.