The Detroit Lions took care of business Sunday defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home by a score of 34-17. This game was a must win for the Lions as they need to keep pace in the NFC for a playoff spot. Coming off a big win on Thanksgiving in which the Lions offense finally came alive, expectations were for another good performance by the offense against a lowly Buccaneers team. The offense did just that as Matthew Stafford threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, Calvin Johnson had over 150 yards receiving and a touchdown, and the running game again produced above average numbers for what the Lions are used to, most of which came on Joique Bell‘s big 4th quarter run.
The Detroit Lions started the game off strong, getting a solid drive with pass completions to Eric Ebron, Joique Bell, and Joseph Fauria early on. The big play came when Stafford connected with Golden Tate for 19 yards getting the Lions offense inside the Tampa Bay 40 yard line. After three consecutive failed plays, the Lions faced a 4th and 1 on the Tampa 24 yard line. Early in the game, this is almost a guaranteed field goal attempt. Coach Jim Caldwell, seeing an injured Gerald McCoy come out of the game, felt like his best chance to get a first down would be right now with Tampa Bay’s best defensive player out of the game. Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi dialed up a predictable dive play up the middle and it was stuffed. Detroit turned the ball over on downs.
Tampa Bay showed why it currently holds a 2-11 record by promptly going three and out instead of seizing momentum on a big defensive stand. That was the series that set the tone for the rest of the game. Stafford took his Lions offense down the field on a 21 yard pass to Calvin Johnson, a 12 yard pass to Eric Ebron, a 15 yard pass again to Johnson, and a 13 yard pass to Golden Tate. On the Tampa Bay 6, Stafford changed the play at the line and hit Johnson for a 3rd time on the drive, this time for a 6 yard touchdown. Detroit was now on top 7-0.
Tampa Bay decided it was time to answer on their next drive. Doug Martin ran for 9 on their first play, Vincent Jackson had a pair of 8 yard catches the keep the chains moving, and Charles Sims even got in on the action with a 24 yard screen pass on 3rd and 9. That is where Tampa Bay stalled though, with two Josh McCown incompletions and a George Johnson sack. The Bucs settled for a field goal to cut the Lions lead to 4. With a 7-3 game, Detroit promptly went three and out and punted back to the Bucs.
Josh McCown was looking to get another drive going against the Lions, forcing a pass to Mike Evans that was tipped and intercepted by Glover Quin on the Tampa Bay 34 yard line. On their second play of the drive, Stafford connected with Johnson again, for 17 yards to get them into the red zone. a Tampa Bay penalty and a few runs later and Detroit was facing a 3rd and 1 on the one yard line. Joique Bell, who was almost stopped for a loss, barreled through the line and scored the 1 yard touchdown. Detroit now had a 14-3 lead.
Mc Cown again tried to mount a drive, getting two nice catches by Jackson for 6 and 9 yards each. The Detroit pass rush got enough of a jump that center Evan Dietrich-Smith missnapped the ball and Andre Fluellen, who was signed after the London game to fill in for Nick Fairley, recovered the fumble. Trying to score again, Detroit failed to get the first down on three consecutive plays, a run and two passes, and settled for a 46 yard Matt Prater field goal. The Lions lead was now 17-3.
With three minutes left in the half, things started to go south for the Lions. With the Bucs sitting at 3rd and 7, Detroit failed to contain Mike Evans as he hauled in a 13 yard catch for a first down. It did not stop there though. Vincent Jackson hauled in a big 50 yard pass from McCown, and the Bucs gor 9 more yards on a roughing the passer penalty by Ndamukong Suh. With a first down on the Detroit 8, Detroit got what should have been a huge break. McCown threw an errant pass into the end zone that was picked off by James Ihedigbo. Instead of kneeling it and taking the ball at the 20 with 1:35 left in the half, he chose to run it out of the end zone, holding the ball very loosely. The ball was stripped and the Bucs recovered at the 10. After holding the Bucs to 4 yards on the first play of the “new drive”, DeAndre Levy sacked McCown for a 8 yard loss, leaving the Bucs with a 3rd down. The defense stood tall and almost forced a field goal, holding McCown to 3 yards while needing 14, but another big penalty by the Lions game Tampa yet another first down inside Detroit’s 10 yard line. McCown capitalized with a 5 yard touchdown pass to Evans.
Tampa Bay, down 17-10, again went three and out and punted to the Lions after the half. Stafford immediately went deep to his favorite receiver Calvin Johnson for a 53 yard pass. Three bad plays later, and Prater added a 23 yard field goal. After a few stalled drives by both teams, Detroit went on the move. From their own 13, they got a nice screen pass to Bell for 27 yards. They then hit Tate for 10 and Ebron for 11. The Lions almost coughed the ball up on a terrible snap by Dominic Raiola, but Stafford made a very smart move to field a bouncing ball and throw it out of bounds, avoiding a loss of yards on the play. He then hit Johnson again, this time for 18. Reggie Bush, with his longest run of the day, took the next carry 12 yards to the Tampa Bay 8. Two plays later, Stafford found an open Joseph Fauria for a 10 yard touchdown. Detroit now had a 27-10 lead.
Tampa Bay answered almost immediately with a nice drive to start the 4th quarter. Unfortunately, the Lions were a big part of the success of that drive. McCown hit Jackson for 12 yards. on the next play, they exploited Daruis Slay getting him to commit pass interference and gaining 24 yards out of it. They then hit Jackson again for 13 yards. On the Detroit 26 yard line, McCown found Evans for his second touchdown, narrowing the lead to 10. Detroit showed no urgency to answer the Bucs score, running twice and getting sacked on 3rd and long. With a 27-17 score, Tampa was getting the ball back and looking to get back into this game.
On second and 24, Darius Slay again interfered with the receiver for a 38 yard penalty, essentially jump starting the Bucs much needed drive. Tampa promptly shot themselves in the foot though, failing to do anything and committing a holding penalty in the process, forcing them to punt on what should have been their most important drive of the game. Detroit took advantage of the Bucs failing drive and from their own 8, they got a huge run from Bell of 57 yards. Stafford then hit Johnson for 13, Bell ran again for 2, and Johnson got another 15 yard catch. On first and 5, Stafford’s pass was batted down by Gerald McCoy and Joique Bell was smart enough to snag it out of the air and run untouched into the end zone for a touchdown. Detroit now had a 34-17 lead with 5 minutes left of the game. Tampa Bay proceeded to fail at moving the ball and Detroit made the smart move to just drain clock on each of its remaining possessions getting them the win, and their first winning season since their 2011 when they last made the playoffs.
With Detroit sitting at 9-4, and currently holding the tie breaker over Dallas, they are firmly in the top 6 in the NFC playoff picture and looking forward to two more games against poor teams before seeing Green Bay in an important week 17 battle.