For the Lions, the playoffs started this week. Their remaining four games represented a chance, albeit a slight one, to make the playoffs, but it would have to start with a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After exchanging punts, the Lions did the unthinkable: They jumped out to a lead, and not just any kind of lead... Theo Riddick took a handoff from two yards out and dove for the goal line to cap off a seven-play, 74-yard drive. Riddick’s run gave Detroit a 7-0 advantage to start the game, and for the first time in what felt like months, the Lions weren’t trailing by two scores.
But the Lions lead would be short-lived. On Tampa Bay’s second drive of the afternoon, Doug Martin plunged into the end zone from a yard out to bring the Bucs within a point, and Patrick Murray’s successful extra point attempt drew the game even.
Detroit’s next drive looked like it was going to get off to a hot start after Matthew Stafford connected with Eric Ebron in stride across the middle of the field, but during the run after catch, Lavonte David popped the ball free. Tampa Bay had the ball in plus-territory, and things suddenly looked less in the favor of Detroit.
Then, this happened:
(1:58 - 1st) J.Winston pass incomplete deep right to O.Howard (Q.Diggs). PENALTY on DET-Q.Diggs, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at DET 38 - No Play. Detroit challenged the incomplete pass ruling, and the play was REVERSED. J.Winston pass deep right to O.Howard to DET 17 for 21 yards (Q.Diggs). FUMBLES (Q.Diggs), RECOVERED by DET-D.Slay at DET 18
Yeah, even this doesn’t do justice for how ridiculous this sequence of events played out on live television.
Darius Slay came into today’s game with four interceptions, the most he’s ever had during a season in his career. “Big Play” Slay struck early on in the second quarter, intercepting a pass thrown by Jameis Winston and setting the Lions up with good field position in a tied ball game. On second-and-20 from the Buccaneers 43-yard line, Stafford unloaded a deep pass for Marvin Jones Jr., and he hauled it in for a 38-yard gain to set up first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
One play later, Detroit took back the lead with a pass from Stafford to Golden Tate.
Tampa Bay’s next possession saw them moving the ball well, even getting it just to the edge of the red zone, but once again, Detroit’s defense would step up and force a turnover. This time it was the Pro Bowl-worthy safety Glover Quin forcing the ball free from the grasp of Doug Martin.
Detroit’s next two possessions would end on a couple of poor decisions and throws by Stafford, both resulting in interceptions and leaving potential points on the table in a one-score game. Still, Detroit led 14-7 going into the half.
Tampa Bay would start the second half with the football, but they wouldn’t have possession for long as the sloppy play from both teams continued. Winston threw his second interception of the day, this time into the hands of Quandre Diggs—the second turnover he caused of the day.
Detroit’s next drive, three plays that netted them 4 yards, resulted in a punt, but Winston’s inability to keep the Lions from taking the football from him continued, this time by way of a fumble forced by a blitzing Jarrad Davis.
The Lions would make the most of this drive, taking advantage of the field position afforded to them by the Tampa Bay turnover. Riddick’s productive day continued when he dashed in from 18 yards out for his second rushing touchdown on the day, giving the Lions a 21-7 lead.
And even though that 14-point lead seemed like it could be too tall of a mountain for Tampa Bay’s offense to climb, they responded by driving 75 yards on 10 plays and bringing the game to within a single score after an OJ Howard touchdown catch.
Another Lions drive ended in a punt, and the Buccaneers would assume the momentum, tying the game at 21 all with a little over eight minutes remaining. Detroit’s next drive would stall after a diving Eric Ebron dropped a pass that would have been good for a first down. But the Lions defense would give them a chance, coming up big on third-and-10 by forcing an incompletion.
Detroit moved their way onto Tampa Bay’s side of the field and on came Matt Prater from 46 yards out to give Detroit the lead with just 25 seconds left. Prater did his job and gave the Lions the lead. Ezekiel Ansah would seal the victory for Detroit when he sacked Winston on the Buccaneers’ first play from scrimmage on the next drive.
Detroit survives to see their playoff hopes live for another week.