FB Mike Alstott scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead a Bucs comeback
Tampa Bay's hopes of taking over sole possession of first place in the NFC Central looked to be in serious jeopardy when Detroit took a 16-9 lead early in the fourth quarter. However, rookie QB Shaun King led the Bucs on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, both ending in scores by FB Mike Alstott, and the Buccaneer defense put on its patented fourth-quater clamps to preserve the 23-16 victory.
The Lions began the final quarter by completing a 71-yard field goal drive that was built mostly in the third period. Tampa Bay's defense kept the game within a touchdown by turning back Detroit on three plays from the nine-yard line. K Jason Hanson kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 16-9 Lions lead.
WR Reidel Anthony turned in another strong kickoff return to the Bucs' 35, but a personal foul on the Bucs immediately put the home team in a first-and-25 hole. That turned into a seemingly-deadly third-and-16 situation, but King converted with a spectacular 30-yard pass to Anthony in the middle of three Lion defenders. King followed with a 12-yard pass to WR Bert Emanuel, then threw a fade pass to Emanuel two plays later that drew a pass-interference penalty and a first-and-goal at the three-yard line.
An incomplete pass and a rugged two-yard run by Alstott positioned Tampa Bay at the one on third down. Alstott powered it in from there for the game-tying score and his fifth touchdown of the season.
Thus the Buccaneers' battle for first place with the Lions came down to the last nine-and-a-half minutes, which Detroit started on its own 24. Detroit gained six yards on its first two downs but was turned away by a quick incompletion forced by CB Ronde Barber's well-timed blitz. Detroit's John Jett then lifted a short punt that was downed at the Bucs' 42.
The Bucs failed to gain a first down when King's third-down scramble came up a few plays short, and P Mark Royals boomed his punt into the end zone for a touchback. That's when the Buccaneer defense took over. After a first-down incompletion, DT Warren Sapp knocked the ball out of QB Gus Frerotte's hand for a sack, although Frerotte recovered. On the resulting third-and-15, Frerotte attempted a deep pass over the middle to WR Germane Crowell but S John Lynch collected the throw for his second interception of the season.
Lynch returned his timely pick 28 yards to the Lions' 24, setting up a brief go-ahead touchdown drive. After RB Warrick Dunn gained two yards on a run up the middle, Alstott took a screen pass from King in the right flat, bounced inside of a fantastic block from pulling guard Frank Middleton and rumbled 22 yards into the end zone for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter.
S Ty Talton provided an anxious moment for the Buccaneer crowd by returning the ensuing kickoff deep into Tampa Bay territory, but an illegal-block penalty on the return team instead put Detroit at its own 13. The Lions gained one first down but soon found themselves in a fourth-and-19 hole at the 18 after a combined sack by Sapp and fellow tackle Brad Culpepper.
Detroit, which earlier in the season knocked off the NFC-leading St. Louis Rams thanks to a late conversion on fourth-and-26, couldn't come up with the same magic tonight, thanks to another serious rush from Sapp and Culpepper. Frerotte escaped the Bucs' menacing tackles several times but could only get off a desperation pass with Sapp draped on his back. The incompletion gave Tampa Bay possession at the 18 with 1:47 remaining. Two runs by Alstott and one by King produced a first down and ran off the final seconds in Tampa Bay's 23-16 win.