Troy Vincent went from sideline cheerleader to on-field contributor, playing a significant role in one of the stingiest performances in NFL history. Calling it his first career...

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Troy Vincent went from sideline cheerleader to on-field contributor, playing a significant role in one of the stingiest performances in NFL history.

Calling it his first career hat trick, Vincent had an interception, fumble recovery and a sack in sparking the Buffalo Bills’ 37-7 win over the Cleveland Browns yesterday.

The Bills generated five turnovers, added eight sacks and limited the blundering Cleveland Browns to 17 yards on 46 plays.

It was the fifth-fewest yards allowed in league history. And Cleveland flirted with the NFL record of minus-7 yards set by Seattle in 1979 before adding 15 yards on their last series in the final two minutes.

The Browns (3-10) have lost eight straight and resembled a team in disarray — missing eight regulars to injury and headed by interim coach Terry Robiskie, who took over two weeks ago after Butch Davis’ resignation.

“I know it’s tough on every player. It’s demoralizing,” Robiskie said. “I got a sense standing on the sideline that it was too big a game for us.”

Luke McCown, making his second start, completed 8 of 20 throws for 62 yards, with two interceptions, and was sacked seven times for 74 yards lost.

“There was a point in time where it was men against boys,” Robiskie said. “A lot of it was too big for a couple of kids we had playing, and one of them was Luke.”

Patriots win division vs. Dillon’s old team

FOXBORO, Mass. — Making the playoffs is becoming a habit for most of the New England Patriots. For Corey Dillon, the day finally arrived.

They clinched a berth yesterday for the third time in four years, beating the team Dillon left after seven seasons in which he feuded with management.

“First time in eight years? I’ll take that,” Dillon said after running for 88 yards and a touchdown in New England’s 35-28 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. “But I didn’t get there by myself.”

Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes, and the defense forced two turnovers inside the Patriots’ 20-yard line and a third that was returned for a touchdown that made it 21-7.

New England (12-1) locked up the AFC East title when Pittsburgh beat the New York Jets. The Patriots got their 27th win in 28 games, including last season’s Super Bowl.

“I approached it like I approached every other game,” Dillon said. “I’m pretty sure everybody’s sitting here waiting for me to say something wild and negative about Cincinnati. It’s not going to happen. I respect those guys.”

Owner: Shanahan safe

DENVER — Broncos owner Pat Bowlen came to the passionate defense of coach Mike Shanahan yesterday, sticking with his stance that the coach will be in Denver as long as he wants.

“He’s got four years to go on his contract, and I’m not firing him,” Bowlen said after Denver beat the Miami Dolphins 20-17 and stayed tied with Baltimore (8-5) for the AFC’s final wild-card spot.

The Broncos came into the game on a two-game losing streak, and Shanahan’s future was a prime topic of discussion around the NFL during the week.

Former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe criticized the coach for handpicking Jake Plummer as his quarterback and suggested Shanahan had too much power as coach and personnel man.

Shanahan, in his 10th season with the Broncos, hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1998 Super Bowl.

Also yesterday, Plummer flashed an obscene gesture toward the stands after throwing a first-quarter interception and getting jeered in Denver’s win.

“I apologize for that to our fans and everyone,” Plummer said. “It wasn’t directed to our fans. One guy got into my head a little bit. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Falcons rare birds

Counting the NFC South title they won yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons have three division titles.

The others were in 1980 and 1998.

Only linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive lineman Travis Hall are holdovers from the 1998 team.

“I didn’t think it would take this long to win again,” Brooking said. “It really puts things in perspective for me.”


• Miami WR David Boston was suspended by the NFL for four games for testing positive for steroids, but he will not miss any games because he is out for the season with a knee injury. Boston, however, will lose $1.34 million.

“I did not take any anabolic steroids, but it was decided that I tested for a related substance,” Boston said.

• With Julius Jones the new featured back in Dallas, coach Bill Parcells deactivated RB Eddie George for the first time in his career. George did not play against the Seahawks last Monday, ending his streak of consecutive games at 139.

Harvey R. “Bum” Bright, the former Cowboys owner who sold the team to Jerry Jones, has died. He was 84. Bright bought the Cowboys from founder Clint Murchison in 1984. He sold the team to Jones in 1989.

Yard mark
The Cleveland Browns’ 17 yards yesterday were the fifth fewest in league history.
Yds Team Opponent Year
-7 Seattle L.A. Rams 1979
-5 Denver Oakland 1967
14 Chi. Cardinals Detroit 1940
*17 Cleveland Buffalo 2004
*No. 4 unavailable.