The win evened the Buccaneers' record at 4-4 and kept them in sight of the division-leading Green Bay Packers who whipped the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field 20-12. Both the Packers and the Bears, who are the next opponent for the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium, sport a 6-2 log and the winless Lions drop to 0-8 on the season.
After allowing a game-winning 55-yard touchdown on Allen Rossum's punt return last week, Tampa Bay's special teams rebounded in a big way and did a great job this week against the Lions. Not only were they directly responsible for 14 points with a Karl Williams 84-yard punt return for a touchdown plus two field goals and two extra point conversion kicks, but their coverage team kept one of the best in the NFL in returner Desmond Howard under wraps.
The theme for Tampa Bay's special teams units this week in practice was "Commitment to Contain" and did they ever.
Howard returned four punts for only 39 yards with his longest being 12 yards. He had the same number of kickoff returns for 79 yards with a long of 26 yards. The Bucs followed special teams coach Joe Marciano¹s game plan of "Commitment to Contain" perfectly.
The vaunted Bucs defense also looked like the Buccaneers defense of old at times against the winless Lions. Cornerback Ronde Barber had a career-high two interception and the defensive line recorded four of the five sacks accumulated by the Bucs with Warren Sapp leading the way with two quarterback captures. Defensive tackle Chartric Darby and defensive end Simeon Rice each had one sack, and linebacker Jamie Duncan rounded out the sackers with one of his own.
Kicker Martin Gramatica, who had an eight-point afternoon, put the Bucs in the victory column with a 35-yard field goal from the center of the field with :04 second left in the game.
That kick ended a furious eight-play, 63-yard drive that took 1:45 to conclude. A huge third-and-3 from the Bucs 27-yard line was converted when quarterback Brad Johnson, who finished 20-of-37 for 188 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, found wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who led the Bucs with seven catches for 72 yards, for 18 yards on a flag route on the left sideline.
The other big play of the drive was when Johnson found running back Warrick Dunn, who rushed 17 times for 51 yards as well as snagging five passes for 60 yards, on a check down route for a 23 yard pass-and-run down to the Detroit 26 yard-line.
After a scoreless first period, the Bucs went up 3-0 at 4:53 of the second quarter when Gramatica kicked a 37-yard field goal. The kick, from just inside the right hash marks, culminated a 12-play, 61-yard drive that took 6:09 of clock time.
The highlights of the drive were running back Mike Alstott, who finished with 48 yards on eight carries and three receptions for 16 yards, with four carries for 34 yards as well as a reception for five yards and Johnson hitting tight end Dave Moore, who had two catches for 14 yards, for eight yards down to the Lions 24 on a third-and eight.
The Bucs raised the ante after probably one of the dumbest coaching blunders in recent memory. For some strange reason, Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg decided to substitute for starting quarterback Charlie Batch, who was 21-for-39 for 239 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
He brought in rookie signal caller Mike McMahon, who was a stellar 0-for-1 and a fumble in his three plays of work, to get some playing time and see if he could jump start the Detroit offense. All he did was, on a third-and-eight from their own 27, fumble the football after scrambling out of the pocket when he was hit from behind by linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Defensive lineman Chartric Darby recovered for the Pewter Pirates at the Detroit 30 and the Tampa Bay offense was back in business with a short field. It took the Bucs 1:54 and four plays to cover the 30 yards with Dunn going the last 12 yards of real estate with a perfectly executed slip screen pass from Johnson. The pass only travelled about three yards to the right and Dunn did the rest by knifing his way through the Lions defenders.
Gramatica's point after touchdown gave Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead with 1:52 left in the first half.
The Buccaneers had a chance to put away the Lions early in the second quarter. After the Bucs took the second half kickoff and were stopped at their own 37-yard line, punter Mark Royals, who punted seven times for a 45.6 average, boomed a 61-yard punt that was downed by cornerback Dwight Smith on the Detroit 2-yard line.
After the Bucs forced a three-and-out, punter John Jett's 48 yard punt was brought back by returner Karl Williams, who returned six punts for 116 yards and one touchdown, 14 yards to the Lions 37-yard line. Now Tampa Bay was in a position to extend its lead to, at least, 13 points.
But it was not to be. After Dunn went off the right side for two yards and Alstott dropped a pass in the right flat, the Bucs were facing a third-and-8 from the Lions 35 yard line. Johnson was sacked by blitzing strong safety Ron Rice at the Detroit 45 yard line for a loss of eight yards and moved the Buccaneers out of field goal range.
The Lions finally dented the scoreboard with 2:51 left in the third quarter. After Jett's punt was muffed by Williams and recovered by running back Brock Olivo, it took the Lions 4:25 to cut the Bucs lead to 10-7.
Fullback Corey Schlesinger, who had 13 yards on seven carries and the Lions only rushing touchdown to go along with a team high five catches for 54 yards, slashed over the right side to end an eight play 26 yard drive that include a very questionable roughing the passer call on defensive end Marcus Jones.
The big play of the drive was a Schlesinger 3-yard dive over the top of the pile on a fourth-and-one at the Bucs four yard line. Kicker Jason Hansen, who had a five point day, booted a successful PAT that put the guys from the Motor City within a field goal of the Pewter Pirates.
The Buccaneers again extended the lead to 10 points on the last play of the third quarter. After forcing the Lions to punt, Williams gathered in Jett's 39-yard boot and returns it 84 yards for a score. Williams started left, went right and then came back to the left to set up a beautiful block by running back Rabih Abdullah.
He then outraced the Lion defenders down the left sideline and cut left off the final block by strong safety David Gibson on linebacker Allen Aldridge. Gramatica's second PAT of the contest put the Bucs ahead 17-7 going into the fourth quarter.
The Lions whittled three points off the Buccaneers lead with a Hanson 38-yard field goal from the left hash with 7:36 left in the game. That concluded a seven-play, 37-yard drive that took 3:11 of game time. A huge play for the Bucs was when Darby sacked Batch for a loss of eight yards on third-and-8 from the Tampa Bay 12-yard line. That forced the Lions to settle for three points and cut the Bucs lead to 17-10. Keeping Detroit out of the end zone didn¹t seem that important at the time but it would loom large later in the game.
The Lions finally tied the score at 17 all with a nine play, 61-yard drive that took 3:54 seconds. On third-and-goal on the Bucs eight yard line Batch found running back Reuben Droughns, who finished with 30 yards on 13 carries and a three catch day for 17 yards and a touchdown, just over the goal line on the right sideline to knot the score with just 1:49 left in the contest.
Batch kept the drive alive with a three yard sneak on third-and-one from the Tampa Bay 10 yard line. But the Lions left some time on the clock and the Pewter Pirates used 1:45 seconds to seal their fourth win of the season. Tampa Bay weathered two instant replay calls on catches by Johnson and Alstott - which luckily weren't overturned - on the scoring drive.
The Bucs will strive to find consistency when they host the 6-2 Chicago Bears this week at Raymond James Stadium. With the win over Detroit, the Bucs' record in the NFC Central now improves to 3-2.
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