Despite big games from the WR duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, the Bucs couldn’t keep up with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the Lions Sunday in Detroit, falling to 2-11 on the season.
With a defense firing on all cylinders and an offense featuring some high-octane performers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went to Detroit on Sunday hoping for their second win at Ford Field in as many years. This time, however, the Lions’ offense simply had more horsepower than the Buccaneers, and the home team pulled away in what had been a close race at halftime.
The result was a 34-17 loss for the Buccaneers that dropped their 2014 record to 2-11 with three weeks to play. A year ago, Tampa Bay used five takeaways on defense to eke out a 27-24 win in Detroit, but this time the Lions won the turnover battle, 3-1, using the first two takeaways to build a first-half lead they never relinquished.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to that football team,” said DE Jacquies Smith, who recorded two of the Bucs’ four sacks of Lions QB Matthew Stafford. “We knew they were a good team coming in. We just didn’t make enough plays in order to get the job done but you’ve got to give those guys credit, they made more plays than we did.”
After scoring 10 points on short fields following turnovers in the second quarter, the Lions’ third takeaway of the game could have put the Bucs out of reach when S James Ihedigbo intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone just before halftime. However, TE Luke Stocker forced an Ihedigbo fumble on the return and the Bucs got another first-and-goal opportunity which they turned into a touchdown pass to rookie WR Mike Evans. Trailing just 17-10 at the break and getting the ball to start the second half, the Bucs believed they could climb right back into the game, but the Lions scored the only 10 points of the third period.
“We didn’t come out to start the second half, again, like we needed to,” said QB Josh McCown. “But once we got going, we got the ball to Mike and got within striking distance. We just didn’t move it consistently enough. That’s the thing – we need to be consistent and we just didn’t do that.”
WRs Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson were once again the Bucs’ main horses, and it was primarily through those two that the team moved the ball at all. Jackson caught 10 passes for 159 yards while Evans scored both of the Bucs’ touchdowns among his four grabs for 45 yards. That gave those two a combined 204 yards on a day when the Bucs settled for 233 total net yards of offense.
The problem, of course, was that the Buccaneers’ struggling rushing attack ran into the NFL’s top run defense, which had been holding opponents to 65.9 yards per game. The Bucs got only 26 yards on 14 carries and once again had several good runs called back on penalties.
“Once that happens, it makes you one-dimensional,” said McCown, who was under constant pressure and eventually absorbed six sacks. “It makes hard for the O-Line, it makes it hard for everybody. It’s not just us; they’ve been doing that to everybody. That’s a very stout front, and we knew it coming in. We had some good runs but, again, once you get behind the sticks and commit some penalties, you get away from the run part of it, and now you make it easier for them to just pin their ears back and get after you.”
On defense, the Buccaneers were already without starting middle linebacker Mason Foster to start the game, which prompted the coaching staff to move Danny Lansanah to his spot. Lansanah had been starting on the weak side in place of Lavonte David, but David made his return after missing two games with a hamstring injury. However, David suffered a concussion late in the third quarter and did not return to the game. That left the Buccaneers running with a LB trio of Lansanah, Orie Lemon and Brandon Magee, all undrafted free agents who had never started an NFL game before the 2014 season. Magee later got hurt on a kickoff return, bringing Dane Fletcher into the game as the only remaining LB on the roster.
Still, the Bucs mostly limited the big play until WR Calvin Johnson caught a 53-yard pass in the third quarter and RB Joique Bell broke free for a 57-yard run in the fourth period. Johnson finished the game with eight catches for 158 yards and a score while Bell had 133 total yards and two total touchdowns. His second score, which effectively put the game away in the fourth quarter came on a pass that was deflected at the line, as he managed to catch the deflection and run it in from five yards out.
Before those big plays, the Bucs’ defense had spent much of the day defending runs and screen passes. The Lions ended up with 113 yards on the ground but just 3.6 yards per carry, figures that were severely spiked by Bell’s late breakaway. Stafford did a fine job settling for underneath passes, completing 26 of 34 passes for 311 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Lions converted on seven of 15 third down tries, including six of nine in the first half.
The Bucs did make Stafford move around quite a bit, and while he made some plays on the run he was also sacked four times and hit on six occasions.
“It was just a combination of rush and coverage working together,” said Smith. “I think the guys on the back end did a good job of making him hold it, and the rush did a good job of making him move around. We knew that was one of the keys of the game, not letting him just stand there and pick us apart.”
Detroit was nursing a 7-3 lead in the second quarter when a rash of turnovers led to a series of scores. First, S Glover Quin made a sliding pick at the Bucs’ 34 of a pass that tipped off Evans’ hands, setting up Joique Bell’s third-and-one TD run. David knifed through the line to hit Bell in the backfield but the Lions RB just kept his knee off the ground and then surged into the end zone. Minutes later, a botched snap between McCown and C Evan Dietrich Smith led to a fumble that the Lions recovered in Buccaneer territory. Tampa Bay’s defense held but the Lions still got three points on a 46-yard Matt Prater field goal.
Evans scored on a perfect 26-yard pass into the back right corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter. Other than his two TDs, Tampa Bay’s only points came on a 54-yard field goal by Patrick Murray set up by Charles Sims‘ 24-yard gain on a screen pass. The Lions scored the game’s first points on a perfect fade pass from Stafford to Johnson in the first quarter.
The Lions got the ball first after a touchback and quickly faced a third-and-four after a short Johnson catch over the middle on second down. The Bucs’ initial coverage was strong but Stafford had enough time to wait for Bell to break open in the middle for a seven-yard gain. Three plays later, on third-and-two, the scene repeated itself, with Stafford backpedaling against a good rush but having enough time to get off a short pass over the middle to TE Joseph Fauria. That made it first-and-10 at the Lions’ 48 and a little screen pass out to Tate on the right edge worked perfectly for 19 to the Bucs’ 33. DE T.J. Fatinikun dropped Bush for a loss of one on the next play and the Lions soon faced third-and-nine; Bush made several nice moves on a screen pass but came up a yard short of the line. After a long break while an injured Gerald McCoy was helped off the field, the Lions went for it on fourth-and-one and DT Akeem Spence stood Bell up for no gain.
Tampa Bay’s first drive thus started at its own 24, but McCown’s first pass was incomplete. After a short run by Martin, McCown tried to hit Jackson on a very deep out but it was overthrown. Michael Koenen‘s punt was fair caught at the Lions’ 30.
Stafford threw a bomb on first down that traveled roughly 60 yards in the air and nearly found Calvin Johnson but S Bradley McDougald arrived just in time to bat it away. However, two plays later on third-and-10 Stafford stepped up to avoid pressure and fired a 21-yard strike over the middle to Johnson. Stafford converted another third-and-10 moments later with a quick slant to rookie TE Eric Ebron, then got the ball inside the 10 with over-the-middle darts to Johnson and Tate. Two plays later, Stafford and Johnson hooked up on a simple fade to the right that was so perfectly executed there was little CB Johnthan Banks could do about it.
The Bucs’ second drive started better, with Martin darting and spinning for nine and a quick pass down the line to Jackson working for eight more. A well-designed play on which Martin’s route drew the linebacker out of the middle of the field opened up an eight-yard in-route for Jackson. After an incompletion downfield on second down, McCown threw a simple quick pass to Stocker to move the chains but a longer pass downfield to Evans on the resulting first down was incomplete. A short pass to Evans brought the first quarter to an end. It was third-and-nine when the second period began and a well-disguised screen pass to Sims picked up 24 yards to the Lions’ 26. DE George Johnson sacked McCown for a loss of 10 on third down but Murray was still able to sneak his 54-yard field goal attempt over the crossbar.
After another Koenen kickoff touchback, a short pass to Bush on second down left the Lions in a third-and-one at the 29. Stafford was forced to scramble on third-and-one when his quick-pass option was covered, and Smith made a fantastic hustle play to just trip the QB up from behind before he could cross the 30-yard line. Detroit’s Sam Martin promptly blasted a 71-yard punt to the opposing end zone for a touchback.
Two runs canceled each other out to start the Bucs’ next drive, making it third-and-10 at the 20. McCown’s third-down pass to Evans tipped off the receiver’s hand and was intercepted at the Lions’ 34 by a sliding Qlover Quin.
Two plays later, Stafford found Johnson down the left seam, with the receiver absorbing two big hits to hold on for a 17-yard gain. The Lions faced a third-and-three at the 10 moments later and Bush made several good moves to turn a short pass into just enough for a first down at the Bucs’ seven. Bell’s first run got it down to the two and his second carry got it to the one. David shot through the line on third down and hit Bell in the leg, but the Lions back managed to just keep his knee of the ground and surge forward for the home team’s second touchdown.
Bucs came out in hurry-up mode with six minutes left in the half and got a total of 15 yards on two quick outs to Jackson. However, McCown failed to secure the snap on the next play and DT Andre Fluellen fell on the ball for Detroit at the Bucs’ 32.
Tampa Bay’s defense held strong after that turnover, however, forcing a third-and-three and then dropping Bush for a loss of three on a great tackle by CB Alterraun Verner. Detroit still netted three points off the takeaway on Matt Prater’s 46-yard field goal for a 17-3 advantage.
The Bucs started again at their own 20 and got a first down when Evans made an alert, toe-tapping sideline catch of a pass that was tipped by a Lions’ defender. A loss of three yards on a Sims run pushed the ball back to the 33 and brought on the two-minute warning. After the break, the Bucs got immediately into scoring territory on a scrambling 50-yard pass from McCown to Jackson. A personal foul on Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh for hitting McCown in the head moved the ball all the way to the Detroit eight-yard line.
One play and two turnovers later, it was still first-and-goal, now at the 10. McCown tried to hit Jackson up the middle in the end zone but the ball was tipped by Quin and intercepted deep in the end zone by S James Ihedigbo. However, as Ihedigbo ran the ball out of the end zone, Stocker hustled up to hit him from behind and cause a fumble, which was eventually recovered at the 10 by the Bucs’ Oniel Cousins.
The Bucs ran three plays and didn’t come close to the end zone, but a personal-foul facemask call on Detroit made it first-and-goal at the five with nine seconds left in the half. A simple button-hook by Evans produced an easy touchdown to cut the lead to 17-10 before halftime.
A short run and a sack by blitzing LB DeAndre Levy put the Bucs in a third-and-13 hole on their opening drive of the half, although an offside penalty reduced that gap by five yards. A deep out in Jackson’s direction was nearly intercepted by CB Cassius Vaughn and the Bucs had to punt.
Detroit got the ball back at their own 39 and immediately went deep, with Johnson throwing a moon ball down the middle of the field to Johnson for 53 yards to the Bucs’ eight. Tampa Bay did manage to hold the Lions out of the end zone, with David diving to tip away a third-down pass intended for WR Jeremy Ross. Prater easily booted a 23-yard field goal through the sticks for a 10-point Lions lead.
The Bucs went three-and-out on their next drive, as well, so the Lions gained possession again in almost the exact same spot. This time, however, the Lions didn’t move the ball, with Smith recording his second sack of the game when Stafford scrambled on third down but couldn’t find an open man.
The Bucs’ next drive started at its own 22 and appeared to get a first down on a tough 11-yard run by Martin, but the play was erased by a holding penalty. McCown absorbed a huge hit but got off a 10-yard pass to Jackson on second down, but another hook-up between the two came up a yard short and led to a punt.
A penalty on the ensuing return backed the Lions up to their own 12 but a perfect screen pass to Bell got a quick 27 to pull them out of that hole. Another screen, this one to Tate, got 10 yards and a deep slant to Johnson picked up 18 to the Bucs’ 20. Bush’s draw-play run made it first-and-goal at the Bucs’ eight, though a second-down sack by DE Will Gholston back at the 10 made it third-and-goal. Stafford still got the ball in the end zone with a pass over the middle to Fauria, putting the home team up by 17 points just before the start of the fourth quarter.
Two plays into the final period, McCown converted a third-and-four on a crossing-route completion to Jackson. On the next play, Jackson was interfered with by CB Darius Slay on a deep pass, resulting in a 24-yard penalty that took the ball to the Lions’ 39. A slant to Jackson picked up 13 more to the 26, and two plays later Evans got free down the right sideline for a 26-yard touchdown catch, his second of the day.
A short bouncing kickoff and a 36-yard return by Ross allowed Detroit to start anew at its own 42. However, a TFL by Lansanah on second down and a sack by DE Larry English on third down forced a quick punt with 11 minutes remaining. Patton was interfered with as he tried to field the punt, a penalty that put the ball at the Bucs’ 33.
A holding penalty pushed the Bucs back but a deep shot in Evans’ direction drew another pass-interference penalty on Slay, this one good for 38 yards to the Lions’ 43. However, a pass interference call against Jackson followed and the Bucs never dug out of a second-and-20 hole, eventually punting down to the Lions’ eight with eight minutes to play.
That field position advantage lasted one play, as Bell broke through the line and dashed for 57 yards down to the Bucs’ 35. Another Johnson catch put the ball at Tampa Bay’s five, and on the next play the Lions got a little bit of unnecessary good fortune when Stafford’s pass was tipped at the line but Bell was able to haul in the deflection and run it in for the score.
* Game Notes:
– The Buccaneers declared the following seven players inactive before Sunday’s game: WR Robert Herron, RB Bobby Rainey, LB Mason Foster, T Anthony Collins, TE Brandon Myers, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and DT Clinton McDonald. Of those seven, only Herron was not out due to injury.
– Detroit declared these seven players inactive: QB Kellen, Moore, T Garrett Reynolds, G Rodney Austin, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, DT Caraun Reid and DT Nick Fairley. Fairley was out due to injury.
– LB Danny Lansanah got the start at middle linebacker with Foster sidelined by an Achilles tendon injury. Lansanah previously started seven games at strongside linebacker and two at weakside linebacker this season. His start in Detroit made him the first player in franchise history to start at all three linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense in the same season. (The Buccaneers played a 3-4 base defense from 1977-90.)
– Rookie K Patrick Murray hit a 54-yard field goal for the Bucs’ first points early in the second quarter. That was his third successful kick of 54 more yards this season, and in just 13 career NFL games. The only player in Buccaneer history with more successful field goals of 54 or more yards is Connor Barth, who had four.
– WR Mike Evans’ two touchdown receptions on the day gave him 10 on the season, one shy of the Buccaneers’ single-season record for both rookies and all players. WR Mike Williams set the mark at 11 in 2010. Evans is the first player in team history with three games with at least two TD receptions in the same season.