The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into their Week 3 preseason game against the Detroit Lions riding a hot streak of two straight road wins. Finally back at home, the Bucs failed to continue that winning streak, as they lost their home opener 33-30 to the Detroit Lions.
Week 3 is often called the dress rehearsal week around the NFL, as it is typical for teams to play their regular season starters for the majority of the game. With that in mind, the Buccaneers’ first-team offense, led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, marched right down the field on the Lions’ first-team defense and scored a touchdown on an 8-play, 66-yard drive. It was a methodical drive that had medium gains all the way into Lions’ territory, until back-to-back passes of 17 and six yards to tight end O.J. Howard and then wide receiver Chris Godwin got them within striking distance. After that, the ball was put in the hands of running back Peyton Barber and he delivered with a 14-yard score.
The Lions’ first-team offense, led by quarterback Matt Stafford, answered on their first drive with points of their own. Their 10-play, 69-yard drive got very close to tying the score, as a 36-yard pass to wide receiver Kenny Golladay got the Lions within the 10-yard line. But, the Bucs’ first-team defense held firm and didn’t allow a touchdown as an easy field goal was kicked through instead.
After a few first downs on their next drive, the Bucs were forced to punt, but we do have to note that during the Bucs’ second drive, running back Ronald Jones came into the game and had a beautiful 37-yard catch down the sideline. There wasn’t much going on for Tampa Bay on that drive other than that, though.
The Lions once again drove the ball down the field with ease. But, once again, when the Lions got into the red zone, the Buccaneers’ defense clamped down and held Detroit to another short field goal. Tight coverage by cornerback Vernon Hargreaves played a big role during that stand, as he was playing in the nickel spot.
After the Lions brought it to a one-score game, the Bucs offense, then led by quarterback Jameis Winston, orchestrated a 10-play, 66-yard drive that once again ended in six points. Fitzpatrick ended his night 6-for-7 for 82 passing yards, and when Winston took over, he looked calm and in control, which has been the theme this preseason. Winston had a 19-yard pass to wide receiver DeSean Jackson that got them close to striking distance in his first series, and then a few plays later he hit Godwin in the corner of the end zone for a score. A missed point after attempt from kicker Chandler Catanzaro meant the score would stay 13-6.
Following the Bucs’ score, both teams would trade punts, giving the Lions what appeared to be the last chance to score points before the half. Detroit took the ball 27 yards in six plays to get right on the edge of field goal range. With just seconds left on the clock until half time, the Lions attempted a 62-yard field goal.
The kick was short, but what happened after that was nothing short of spectacular.
Kick Six Vol. 2!
Adam Humphries returned the missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown, which would have tied the NFL record for longest play in league history if it were a regular season game.
The Bucs went into halftime up 20-6.
Bucs quarterback Ryan Griffin came out of the gate as the team’s starting quarterback, which meant Winston’s night was done. Winston ended his game 6-for-10 with 60 passing yards and a touchdown.
On Griffin’s first series, he led the offense 88 yards in just six plays for a touchdown. He completed an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Watson, a 12-yard pass to tight end Antony Auclair and a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Freddie Martino. Griffin looked totally in control on his first drive, and looks as good as he’s ever looked throughout his Buccaneer career.
Following the Bucs going up 27-6 after that score, the Lions went on a bit of a route. They went on back-to-back drives with touchdowns as the results. With Matt Cassel in at quarterback for Detroit, the Bucs defense just could not get off the field. They weren’t gashed by huge plays, but were hit by intermediate throws and runs that caught up to them on both series. A three-headed running back trio of Kerryon Johnson, Legarrette Blount and Zach Zenner wore down the Bucs’ defense on the second series, which ended in six and brought the score to 27-20, then a single-possession lead for Tampa Bay.
Following the Lions’ second touchdown of the half, the Bucs didn’t lay down. A well-run drive by Griffin with the help of rookies Justin Watson and Shaun Wilson helped the Bucs get into scoring range for a 42-yard field goal by Catanzaro to give the Bucs a 10-point, 30-20 lead.
After the Bucs’ field goal, the two teams once again traded punts. The only difference was when the Bucs punted, Lions’ punt returner Brandon Powell returned it for a touchdown. The Lions went for two after that, but could not convert, so the score remained 30-26.
But the score wouldn’t stay that way, as a final drive by the Lions ended with a touchdown to give them their first lead and the only lead that mattered by a score of 33-30.
For a final stat line, QB Ryan Griffin finished his night 8-for-11 with 100 yards and a touchdown. Bucs running back Peyton Barber had 34 yards on five carries and Ronald Jones had six yards on seven carries. Jones led the Bucs in receiving yards with that 37 yard catch. DeSean Jackson was next with 36 yards on three catches, and Justin Watson had 35 yards on three catches. On defense, Jordan Whitehead, Gerald McCoy and William Gholston all had one sack each on the night.
The Bucs were without a lot of their starters, especially in both trenches for this game, so it wasn’t exactly a dress rehearsal for the projected starters (they hope). Devante Bond and Keith Tandy left the game with injuries, and Mike Evans played the first series but nothing more. The Bucs’ stars will likely take it easy over the next two weeks to make sure they’re ready for New Orleans in Week 1.
Next up for the Buccaneers is their preseason finale at home next Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.