This is a really tough game to grade for Matthew Stafford. On one hand, he completed a miraculous 81.8 percent of passes on 44 attempts for an impressive 8.7 yards per attempt. He was also a perfect 6-for-6 on the final drive of the game, adding another fourth quarter game-winning drive to his resume.
But those two interceptions were both inexcusable and both costly. Should Stafford not force the ball into both of those situations, the Lions probably win this game handily without the need of any fourth quarter heroics. Still, the good outweighs the bad.
Running back: C+
It was another failed day in the running game as Theo Riddick, Tion Green and Zach Zenner averaged 2.9, 3.0 and 0.0 yards per carry respectively.
So why an above-average grade for this unit? Riddick actually had a pretty successful game overall, thanks to his value in the passing game. Riddick was an absolutely essential part of the offensive game plan on Sunday. He was targeted 10 times against the Bucs and pulled in six catches for 64 yards. He was also valuable in the red zone, rushing for two touchdowns—the first time he’s ever done that in his NFL career.
Tight ends: B+
Eric Ebron had a career day with 10 catches for 94 yards. Darren Fells added a big 23-yard catch and rookie Michael Roberts even contributed with a couple receptions.
Tight ends were another key to the offensive game plan, and for the large majority of the game, they were successful. Had it not been for Ebron’s fumble and a drive-killing drop late in the fourth quarter, this would have been an easy A.
Wide receivers: A-
There weren’t any real mistakes made from this unit, but at the same time, they weren’t the focus of the offense on Sunday. Well, except for Golden Tate. Tate pulled in eight catches for 85 yards and a score. Marvin Jones Jr. added his weekly deep ball, putting the Lions in scoring position in the first quarter. And Kenny Golladay had one of the most important catches in the game, extending the Lions’ game-winning drive with a bobbling, contested third-down catch.
Offensive line: C-
As mentioned on Sunday, this was the first time in over two years in which Matthew Stafford was not sacked. That’s worth something.
However, the Lions offensive line was called for four holding penalties in the game, and they seemed to happen at the most devastating of times. Additionally, the offensive line continues to prove that it doesn’t matter what running back is in the lineup, the Lions won’t get a running game going.
Defensive line: D
The Lions finished the game with three sacks, but that feels misleading and only one came from a defensive lineman: Ezekiel Ansah on the very last play of the game.
For the majority of the game, the Lions, again, failed to produce much of any pressure on Jameis Winston.
Ansah looked a little more improved in this game, but everyone else’s performance on the defensive line was completely forgettable.
The Lions run defense continues to struggle, and much of that blame lies on the shoulders of the linebackers. The Lions gave a lot of playing time to Jalen Reeves-Maybin in this game, and it didn’t seem to help much.
Linebackers are having trouble shedding blocks, reading play-action correctly and finishing tackles. All of those problems persisted again on Sunday, but not to the extent it has in the past.
I didn’t think the Lions secondary played all that well for long periods of the game. Bucs receivers were open often and were eating up yards 10 at a time. Jameis Winston completed 68.4 percent of his passes, his second-highest percentage all year.
But it’s hard to deny how many game-changing plays this unit made. Darius Slay had an interception and a fumble recovery. Quandre Diggs had an interception and a forced fumble. Glover Quin had a forced fumble. These are the plays that change outcomes, not the 10-yard dinking and dunking.
Special teams: C-
Matt Prater’s game-winning 46-yard field goal was the Lions’ most important special teams play, but also their only good one. TJ Jones was lacking as the team’s punt and kick returner. Sam Martin had a down day, failing to pin the Bucs within their own 20 twice (though he may have been affected by a foot injury).
There was nothing truly offensive about the Lions’ special teams play, but it didn’t meet their typical standard of quality special teams play.
The Lions’ offensive gameplan of utilizing tight ends and running backs in the passing game was devastatingly effective. For a while, it looked like the Lions offense was going to roll over the Bucs all game, and in a way, they did.
But it’s the individual play-calling that was absolutely infuriating at times. Both of Detroit’s failed third-and-1 situations were just mind-blowingly poor play calls, putting running backs in situations where their skills are not being properly utilized. I’m still baffled by the toss play to Tion Green.
That being said, I thought Jim Caldwell’s game management was good. He made a head’s up play by challenging the confusing fumble/incomplete/hit on a defenseless receiver play.
His time management at the end of both halves was excellent, as well. In the first half, the Lions used their timeouts effectively on defense to give themselves one more chance on offense. Had Stafford not thrown a bad interception, it would have resulted in at least three points. In the second half, the Lions’ two-minute drill was well-timed. Stafford and company bled 2:34 off the clock before scoring the go-ahead field goal, leaving the Buccaneers with just 20 seconds and no timeouts to rebuttal.