Coming out of a bye week, the Lions faced off against a team that many of the current players and coaches are very familiar with. Specifically, head coach Rod Marinelli was one person that really knew Tampa Bay well as that's where he was hired from when he came to Detroit. Knowing that this game would not only be huge for the rest of the season but also bragging rights, Detroit fought hard and came away with a 23-16 victory. The path the Lions took to get the "W" may not have been very conventional, but the "W" is all that counts at the end of the day.
Starting the game off, Tampa Bay got the ball first and immediately started to put together a solid drive. Things were not looking too great for the Lions, but that changed pretty quickly. Jeff Garcia dropped back to pass and was being pressured, and it appeared that he threw a backwards pass that would result in a fumble. The ball should've been recovered by Detroit, but since the Lions players tried to pick it up, it eventually was recovered by TB for a big loss. The momentum shifting in Detroit's favor was noticeable, although the play would be challenged and overturned. I don't understand how as it seemed like Garcia threw the pass backwards, but it was changed nonetheless.
Even with Tampa Bay catching the break, Detroit still had control of the game from that point on. The defense stepped up and forced the Buccaneers to punt, and then on the punt, Corey Smith got through the blockers and blocked it, giving Detroit great starting field position. With the nice field position, Mike Martz elected to establish the run with Kevin Jones. That strategy actually did work as Jones looked good. The drive did eventually stall, though, and it actually was the result of another fumble where the QB's arm was actually going forward. Kitna was going to throw a pass but held up at the last second and the ball came free when he tried to pump fake instead. It rolled around before Tampa Bay picked it up and took it to the house, but Marinelli challenged and it was overturned. That set up a Jason Hanson field goal, giving Detroit a 3-0 lead.
Coming back out with another promising drive, the Buccaneers hoped to keep it going farther down the field this time. Well, as it turned out, the drive would be stalled again, but this time due to a turnover. Jeff Garcia tried to hand the ball off to Earnest Graham, but the ball never got there cleanly. It bounced off of Graham and right into the arms of Shaun Rogers, who tried to run with it, fumbled, and then fell on it to give the Lions the ball. Wanting to capitalize off the turnover quickly, Detroit's offense started rolling. Jon Kitna hit Calvin Johnson for a gain of 19 and then Kevin Jones had a great run down the field for a gain of 17. That put the ball at the 1-yard line, allowing Jones to easily run into the endzone on the next play to give Detroit a 10-0 lead.
Finally finishing a drive, Tampa Bay scored a touchdown to make it a 10-7 game soon after the second quarter started. The Buccaneers moved down the field so successfully with a combination of short passes. Many of them went to the running back, allowing the short gains to eventually add up. Throw in a 38-yard pass to Ike Hilliard as well and the drive was destined to work out for a change. That it did when Garcia connected with Hilliard in the endzone from 5 yards out.
After a quick three and out by Detroit, Tampa Bay put together another great drive. The finish to it wasn't so great for the Bucs, but I'll get to that in a second. Using more short passes, Jeff Garcia just hit every target he wanted and shredded the Cover 2 in doing so. On top of the short passes, Detroit's tackling was really bad when it came to dragging down the running backs that made catches. The Lions just couldn't make a tackle on first contact, and even if they did, the Tampa bay player still managed to fall forward for extra yardage. Like I said, it truly was a great drive and even took 9 minutes off the clock, but a missed field goal would bail out the Detroit defense and finally got them off the field.
Again capitalizing off a Buccaneers mistake, the Lions quickly drove down the field and got into field goal position right before the end of the half. Jason Hanson connected from 42 yards out to put the Lions up 13-7 at the half. Despite being outgained and having its defense on the field for most of the half, Detroit found itself with the advantage.
Needing to give the defense a rest, the Lions offense came out in the second half and did just that. After trading punts, the Lions had the ball for over 8 minutes before Jason Hanson kicked his third field goal of the game. To get in field goal range, the Lions used a running attack of Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett. You know how Tatum Bell doesn't like that Jones is the starter now? Well, he may be out of a backup job as well as Duckett looked solid in the 4 carries he got, plowing over defenders.
Trailing 16-7, the Buccaneers needed points. Once again, Jeff Garcia put together a nice drive, using the short passing game just as we had seen so many times before in this game. And as usual, the Bucs used a lot of time - nearly 8 minutes to be exact - on the drive, but just couldn't finish. On 1st and goal from the 1, Jeff Garcia fumbled the snap and Jared DeVries recovered it, ending another promising Tampa drive that resulted in 0 points. Knowing that this was a huge break, Detroit turned the turnover into a touchdown. The Lions used a balanced run-pass attack and got down to the 32-yard line of Tampa Bay when Calvin Johnson showed why he can be a truly special player. Johnson took a handoff on an end-around and used his moves and a stiff arm to get past the defense to score an exciting touchdown. Not only was it exciting just because of the run itself, but it gave the Lions a comfortable 23-7 lead.
Tampa Bay was running out of time and if they were going to make a comeback, it had to start now. The Bucs did try to make a comeback, and actually got pretty close. Jeff Garcia led a 16-play drive down the field and finished it with a touchdown to cut the lead to 23-13 (2-point conversion was no good). The drive should've been over after an incomplete pass on 4th and 4, but Paris Lenon roughed the passer, giving the Bucs another chance to extend the game. With only 2:03 to go in the game, the Bucs needed an onside and used an unusual method to get the ball back. Tampa came out of a huddle all close together and kicker Matt Bryant simply booted it as hard as he could at the Lions return team. The different form of the onside worked as the ball bounced off a Lion and into the air, allowing Tampa Bay to recover.
Needing 10 points, Tampa Bay successfully kicked a field goal on 4th down to make the score 23-16. Also needing the ball back, it was time for another onside. The Buccaneers lined up in the same formation as the previous onside, but this time Matt Bryant kicked the ball down the sideline in a lob type of fashion. It just barely went too far and Casey FitzSimmons fell on it for Detroit to seal the game. The Lions were able to take a knee and escape with a 23-16 victory despite being outgained heavily in total yardage and time-of-possession.
So, how could a team that appeared to be dominated come away with a win? It's as simple as this: Detroit capitalized on all of Tampa Bay's mistakes and the Bucs just had too much trouble finishing out drives. If you would've showed me the stats and told me Detroit actually won, I would call you crazy, but thanks to those key turnovers at key times, the Lions were victorious.
Another contributor to the win was former Buccaneer Dewayne White, who had 7 tackles and 3 sacks against his former team. Although the defense did struggle, they made plays when needed and also fell on the ball when it was a legal fumble. Those factors all led to this Lions win and ultimately Rod Marinelli's first Gatorade shower. I don't know exactly why his players decided that this win was the time to give it to him, but I like it. Finally, for a change, the Lions are playing like a team and are acting like it, and Marinelli does deserve a lot of credit.
With no time to really celebrate the win, Detroit now heads to Chicago on Sunday for a huge divisional match-up with the Bears. Just a few weeks ago Detroit beat Chicago thanks to a record fourth quarter, so hopefully the same can be done again on the road. With a 4-2 record putting the Lions only a game out of first place, every game is a must-win to keep pace with the top of the division. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. on FOX.