The Detroit Lions dominated most of Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but due to some sloppy play, they only managed to win by a score of 27-20. I know what you're thinking: "The Lions only managed to win by a touchdown? Shouldn't we be celebrating any Lions win?" Yes, but the good news is the Lions didn't play their best game and still won by a touchdown on the road. That alone shows the progress this franchise has made.
The sloppy play for the Lions mainly revolved around untimely penalties, but in the first quarter it included poor kickoff coverage and a bad pass by Matthew Stafford. The first possession of the game for the Lions was outstanding, especially for Stafford, but the Lions had to settle for a 23-yard field goal after the drive stalled. On the ensuing kickoff, Sammie Stroughter blew past the coverage team for 78 yards before he was finally taken down. The Bucs offense quickly went three and out, but they got a field goal anyway thanks to the kick return.
Three plays later, Stafford threw a pass too high for his intended receiver and Aqib Talib picked it off and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Just like that, the Lions went from being up 3-0 to trailing 10-3.
The good news is Stafford shook off the interception and put together another solid drive. There were mistakes made along the way, including a fumbled snap and a bad pass thrown in the direction of a wide open Calvin Johnson in the end zone, but the Lions did get another short field goal from Hanson.
After trading three and outs to wind down the first quarter and begin the second quarter, the Lions defense made a big play. Tampa Bay finally started to move the ball, but Chris Houston intercepted a deep pass in the end zone. The Lions took over, and they went 69 yards in six plays and scored on a 36-yard pass from Stafford to Johnson. The pass came on fourth and two at the Tampa Bay 36, and the risk to go for it paid off in a big way with Stafford hitting Johnson in stride for the score.
After another three and out by Tampa Bay, the Lions again put together an excellent drive. Like the last one, Detroit got a touchdown out of it. Stafford found Tony Scheffler from 11 yards out for the score, and during the drive he completed all five of his pass attempts.
The Bucs finally started to have some sustained success moving the ball on the next drive. With only a minute left in the half, the Lions went into a bit of a prevent look, and this allowed Tampa Bay to move down the field with a bunch of underneath passes. Detroit did keep Tampa Bay out of the end zone, but the Bucs added a field goal to cut the deficit to a touchdown at halftime.
The second half opened with more of what we saw in the second quarter. The Bucs went three and out after getting stuffed just a yard away from moving the chains on both second and third down, and the Lions took the ball and went right down the field. Stafford continued to play out of his mind, and he found Johnson in the end zone on a fade for a one-yard touchdown. Stafford cramped up as he made the throw, but it was placed perfectly for Johnson to snag it for the score.
After yet another three and out by the Bucs, Detroit got the ball back and got much more conservative. This resulted in a quick punt, and the Lions had to punt it again after forcing another Bucs three and out.
The defense also started playing a bit more conservative. The Lions still brought pressure every now and then, but the coverage wasn't as tight, and like at the end of the first half, the Bucs had success dinking and dunking their way down the field. The success stopped once they got inside the red zone, however. The Bucs faced fourth and one, and the Lions not only made a stop, but they forced and recovered a fumble.
Staying in conservative mode, the Lions offense went three and out. Tampa Bay took over near midfield, and after 11 plays and nearly four minutes, they found the end zone on fourth down with a five-yard pass from Josh Freeman to Mike Williams.
Johnson recovered the ensuing onside kick for the Lions, and it looked like that was the game. The Lions didn't pick up a first down, though, and to make matters worse, Gosder Cherilus stopped the clock with an unnecessary roughness penalty. This gave the Bucs 1:07 to work with, and they managed to get down to the Detroit 42 after a penalty on the Lions for too many men on the field. After the penalty, the Bucs had time for only one more play, and they went into desperation mode by trying to make something happen with several laterals. My heart stopped for a second or two when Earnest Graham appeared to have some open field after the third or fourth lateral, but luckily the ball was eventually fumbled and recovered by Detroit to seal the 27-20 victory for the Lions.
Jim Schwartz didn't sound too happy after the game with the performance he witnessed, but the key thing is the Lions won. They certainly didn't play their best game, but this team now has enough talent to pull out a road win against a good team without their best performance. That's my biggest take away from the first game of the season.
Next week the Lions will play their first home game of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs will come to town looking to rebound from a stunning 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills, and the Lions will look to improve their record to 2-0.