On a game that held the perfect football weather, it did not hold the perfect football result for Bucs fans as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the Detroit Lions by a score of 24-21.
The Buccaneers won the toss, but deferred to the second half, giving Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense the first crack at things. This was the right choice because the Buccaneers defense has been great at home, especially when momentum was on their side. With the crowd behind them on the first drive, they did hold strong and forced a three-and-out and a punt by the offense – mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, when the Bucs got their hands on the ball for the first time themselves, they didn’t do much with it either. Running back Doug Martin got the start after missing last week’s game with a concussion and got the first two carries of the game right off the bat for Tampa Bay. Those two carries went for six yards, but after a miss on third down, the Bucs were forced to punt themselves.
After they got the jitters out of the way, Stafford and the Lions offense fired on all cylinders on a 7-play, 74- yards drive that included Stafford going 5-for-5 with 72 of those yards coming through the air. The drive was made possible due to big plays by Detroit running back Theo Riddick, who got the start for the injured Ameer Abdullah, and tight end Eric Ebron.
In a spot where the Buccaneers have fallen short many times this season, instead of letting the game get out of hand early on, Winston and his offense responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an equalizing score. Wide receiver Mike Evans was the catalyst for that drive with two big catches of more than 10 yards each, capped off by a 1-yard Martin touchdown run.
After that things started to get ugly on both sides.
On the Lions next drive, Ebron caught what should have been a big pass, but coughed it up on a forced fumble by Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, who also recovered the fumble. That was David’s fifth forced fumble of the year, which is second most in the NFL, as well as his fifth fumble recovery, which is the most in the NFL. But, on the second play of the Buccaneers next drive, they, too, fumbled the ball off a deep pass to tight end O.J. Howard.
After driving the ball 39 yards on their following drive, the Lions were forced to eventually punt. The Bucs started driving the ball down the field on the next series, but a deep pass from Winston to DeSean Jackson was cut off by Lions cornerback Darius Slay for yet another turnover, this time an interception – and those were just getting started.
In response, Stafford led the Lions on a 6-play, 46-yard drive that was engineered by a 38-yard catch over the middle from Stafford to receiver Marvin Jones that got his team to within the 10-yard line. After the deep catch, on the very next play, Stafford hit wide receiver Golden Tate for a five-yard score to take the lead 14-7.
Down yet again, the Bucs took over with the ball at their own 19 yard line. Thanks to big plays from wide receivers Freddie Martino and Chris Godwin, the Buccaneers offense got the ball all the way to Detroit’s 23-yard line before a Martin fumble in field goal range cost the team points – and cost Martin his carries for the rest of the game.
Thankfully for the Buccaneers, though they weren’t doing anything on offense, the Lions didn’t either for the rest of the half. In fact, the last two series for Detroit ended in Matthew Stafford interceptions; the first to Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes, the second to cornerback Robert McClain.
The game went into the half 14-7 in favor of Detroit.
Running back Peyton Barber took over for Martin in the second half and ran the ball well to kick things off. Barber on the ground and Howard in the air got the Bucs offense rolling until a Winston interception ended that drive right at midfield.
The damage off the turnover was minimal as the Bucs defense held strong and allowed just four yards on the Lions first possession of the second half, forcing another punt. However, the Bucs couldn’t make the most out of their defensive fortune, either, as a costly fumble by Winston in Lions territory ended what looked to be a promising drive.
Following that turnover, the Bucs weren’t as lucky as they were before. Stafford and company woke up and orchestrated a 6-play, 51-yard drive that ended in six points from the feet of Detroit’s running back Riddick, who scored from 18 yards out.
But, rather than laying down, then down two scores, 21-7, the Buccaneers offense instead came to life. On the following drive, Tampa Bay went 75 yards in 10 plays to bring the game within one score. Big throws to Jackson, Godwin and Humphries all played a major role in getting the Bucs to within striking distance, which was capped off by a Howard catch in the end zone. The score was then 21-14.
After a five-play drive that ended in another punt for Detroit, the Bucs offense got back to work starting from their own 28 yard line. The key plays for this drive came at three deep passes from Winston to Evans, two of which were missed, and one which drew a costly pass interference penalty against the Lions defense. After the penalty, Barber gave his offense a big boost with a 16-yard run that got his team all the way to the two-yard line. On the goal line, Koetter went into his bag of tricks and gave offensive lineman Leonard Wester, who was reported as eligible on the play, his first NFL touchdown to tie the game up 21-21.
As they have at home this season, the Bucs defense rose to the occasion at home and held the Lions to just 32 yards in seven play and a punt on their next drive. The Bucs took over with just over five minutes to go in the game in what could have been a potential game-winning drive. However, after getting 11 yards on the second play of the drive, the Bucs offense stalled and were forced to punt it back.
That next opportunity proved to be the one the Lions needed, and the one the Bucs couldn’t afford to give up as Stafford and his offense drove the ball down the field on final time for the game winning field goal.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston finished the game 26-for-38 with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble. Doug Martin got the start at running back, but only got 26 yards on 10 carries. Peyton Barber ended the game with 58 yards on 12 carries. Chris Godwin led the Buccaneers in receiving yards with 68 on five catches. Howard was next with 54 yards on five catches, and Jackson was after him with 41 yards on four catches.
The defense did well with interceptions by Grimes and McClain, but the story coming out of this one was the injury to Gerald McCoy’s shoulder/bicep. McCoy was pretty emotional on the sideline after being sidelined. It could be something that forces him to miss the rest of the season.