The Lions were forced to start rookie quarterback Mike McMahon in place of the injured Charlie Batch. A veteran quarterback having to go against the Bucs defense is a daunting task alone. Having to make the initial start of your NFL career against a team that is tied for the NFC lead in interceptions with 19 and has had a pick in 15 straight games is downright frightening. Add to that the fact that the Bucs have a string of 40 consecutive games with at least one quarterback sack and this had all the makings of a Sunday afternoon walk in the park for the home team.
Nothing ever comes easy for this Buccaneers team. The Bucs had 60 minutes to cut the mustard and it took them over 59 minutes to open the jar. The Johnsons - quarterback Brad and wide receiver Keyshawn - came up big when it counted. The duo hooked up with 45 ticks left in the game on a 13-yard touchdown to give the Buccaneers a 15-12 come-from-behind win over the pesky Lions. The victory stretched Tampa Bay's winning streak to three games and, at 7-5, are still in thick of the playoff race. The loss dropped Detroit to 0-12, but it surely wasn't due to a lack of effort or intensity on the Lions part.
McMahon had an admirable initial outing. He finished the game going 11-of-25 for 165 yards and was only sacked three times for 14 yards. He made plays with his arm, hitting receivers in stride, and made plays with his feet, avoiding numerous sacks by side-stepping the rush or escaping out of the pocket to keep drives alive for the Lions.
The key statistic was that he threw no interceptions, although one pass did go in and out of the hands of cornerback Ronde Barber and into the waiting arms of wide receiver Scotty Anderson on the first play of the second half. Most helpful was a running game that produced 102 yards with running back James Stewart toting the leather for 78 yards in 15 carries.
After two exchanges of punts, the Bucs started their third offensive series from the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. After converting two third down situations into first downs on passes from Johnson, who finished 31-of-54 for 305 yards, for 17 yards to Karl Williams and 10 yards to Johnson. On the ensuing third-and-10 from the Lions 48-yard line, Johnson was picked off by Lions defensive back Terry Fair as he tried to hit wide receiver Jacquez Green, down the left sideline. The interception stopped the most promising drive of the opening quarter.
But the Lions couldn't do anything with the turnover and punted the ball deep in Tampa Bay territory. Tampa Bay parlayed that terrible field position into one of the longest drives in franchise history. All the Bucs offense did was go 111 total yards (including 20 yards in penalties) to finally dent the scoreboard midway through the second quarter. Running back Mike Alstott, who had 66 yards on 12 carries and took a counter play off the right side. The 24-yard touchdown gallop was the 38th rushing touchdown of his career, which set a new franchise record passing James Wilder. Alstott followed some great blocking by the offensive line, particularly right guard Cosey Coleman and fullback Jameel Cook to get through the line of scrimmage untouched. He proceeded to run over cornerback Todd Lyght inside the 10-yard line and the last eight yards was vintage A-Train.
The run culminated a 91-yard, 11-play drive that ate up 6:09 and was highlighted by two great catches. The first was a one-handed reach back snag by Green running a deep in on a first-and-20 for 17 yards. Two plays later on a third-and-1 Johnson threw a rainbow off a play-action fake to Alstott to reserve tight end Todd Yoder coming across the field on an arrow route for 24 yards. Kicker Martin Gramatica¹s conversion kick put the Bucs up 7-0 with 7:05 left until halftime.
The Lions answered on their next possession with a 39-yard field goal by kicker Jason Hanson, one of his four on the afternoon, to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Bucs then matriculated down the field using the two-minute offense to perfection. The only problem was that they didn't get any points to show for their effort. In driving from their own 21-yard line to the Lions 3-yard line Tampa Bay used 13 plays and all but five seconds of the clock. A huge and questionable 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Shaun Rogers on a second-and-21 from the Bucs 43-yard line got the Bucs out of a big hole with an automatic first down. Tampa Bay now faced a first-and-goal from the Lions 3-yard line with a fistful of seconds left on the clock and one timeout before halftime. To kick the field goal or take one shot at the end zone was the scenario facing coach Tony Dungy and he chose the latter. That proved to be his undoing as Johnson couldn't find a receiver and was forced to throw a left-handed hook pass in the direction of Green that fell harmlessly to the turf as time ran out. After being forced to punt on their first possession of the second half, Detroit came up with a big turnover that led to points on the Bucs first series after halftime. On a third-and-4 from the 27-yard line Johnson overthrew Williams on a deep in route and the ball was intercepted by free safety Kurt Schulz at the Bucs 49-yard line. He returned it 19 yards to set up the Detroit offense at the Tampa Bay 30-yard line.
The Lions got as far as the Bucs 10-yard line but had to settle for another Hanson field goal from 30 yards out that cut the Buccaneers lead to 7-6 at 7:03 of the third quarter. The seven play, 18 yard drive took only 2:37 to consummate.
The Lions tried to seize momentum and attempted an onside kick but alert strong safety Eric Vance pounced on the rolling pigskin giving the Bucs great field position at the Lions 41-yard line but they could not make Detroit pay as the Tampa Bay offense went three-and-out.
The Lions took their first lead of the game, 9-7, on the last play of the third quarter. With no time on the clock, Hanson booted a 50-yard field goal that ended a 10-play, 56 yard drive the devoured 5:14 of game clock.
After a Bucs three-and-out, the Lions upped their lead to 12-7 with 11:43 left in the game on Hanson's fourth field goal on their next possession. This time it was a 42-yarder that culminated a five-play, 34-yard drive that took 3:17 to complete.
Detroit had a chance to salt away the victory but passed on a possible 51 yard attempt in lieu of a Leo Araguz punt. His effort from the 34-yard line went well into the end zone and the Bucs would begin at their own 20-yard line. The Pewter Pirates had 4:56 and two timeouts to salvage the season.
It took Tampa Bay 4:11 to go 80 yards in 15 plays for the winning touchdown. Johnson hit Johnson, who finished with 10 catches for 101 yards and his first touchdown of the 2001 campaign, with 45 seconds left in the game, but that was just the postscript.
The Bucs converted two fourth down passes during the drive with the first going to Alstott, who made a great grab on a stop route, for seven yards on a fourth-and-5 from the Lions 48-yard line. The second was on fourth-and-8 from the Detroit 28-yard line to Johnson on a dig route for 15 yards to the Lions 13-yard line.
The Buccaneers also had a little bit of luck as well on two batted balls. The first end up the arms of running back Warrick Dunn, who had six carries for three yards but nine receptions for 54 yards, for a loss of three yards. The second, on the play right before Johnson's touchdown grab on an underthrown ball over 5-foot-9 reserve cornerback Jimmy Wyrick, was almost an interception when strong safety Tommy Bennett deflected a pass up in the air that just eluded the diving attempt of defensive end James Hall.
Johnson's perfect stop route to Alstott for the two-point conversion made it 15-12 but the Lions still had life with three timeouts and the ever-dangerous Howard back to return.
The last breath was taken out of the Lions when special teams coverage ace Rabih Abdullah jarred the ball loose from Howard which Barber covered at the Lions 31-yard line. Two Alstott runs produced a first down allowing Johnson to take a knee as the clock wound down and the Bucs escaped with a win they truly didn't deserve, but would be happy to accept. The Bucs' postseason hopes are still alive.
Become an insider today with a subscription to Buccaneer Magazine or the BucMag.com Insiders Pass. Sign up for the Insiders Pass by clicking here or and call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine.