QB Jeff Garcia completed 13 of 18 passes and threw two touchdodwns in a comeback win over Detroit
Just four weeks ago, a comeback from 17 points down would have marked the best rally for a victory in Tampa Bay Buccaneers' history. Now, dare we say that such cardiac recoveries are becoming commonplace?
There was certainly nothing common about Tampa Bay's determined, come-from-behind, 38-20 victory over the still-winless Detroit Lions on Sunday at Ford Field. The Buccaneers were trailing 17-0 before the first quarter was even over, thanks in part to a busted-play defensive touchdown by the home team.
But the offense awoke in the second quarter, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to take the lead before halftime. In the second half, the Bucs made it a three-part pummeling, as their special teams and defense scored, too. CB Ronde Barber gave the Buccaneers an 18-point lead before the third quarter was half over when he returned his second interception of the day 65 yards for a touchdown.
Rallies of this sort have become stunningly frequent for the Buccaneers this year. Tampa Bay came back from 21 points down in Kansas City to win 30-27 in overtime on November 2. On September 21 in Chicago, the visiting Bucs overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 27-24 in overtime. Prior to this season, the Bucs' record for largest comeback was 17 points, achieved only twice before, the most recent way back in 1983.
This time, the Bucs didn't need an extra period to complete the comeback, making it the largest rally for a victory in team history that did not require that extra period. It did, however, need rookie RB Clifton Smith to spark it, just as he did in Kansas City with a team-record 97-yard kickoff return to reduce a 24-3 deficit to 24-10 before halftime. On Sunday, after Jason Hanson's 38-yard field goal had made it 17-0 in the Lions' favor, Smith ran the ensuing kickoff back 49 yards to midfield and the Bucs mounted their first touchdown drive from there.
Smith also helped the Bucs pull away at the beginning of the second half when he took a punt at his own 30, shot through the first line of tacklers, faked out punter Nick Harris at midfield and galloped 70 yards for a touchdown. Smith thus becomes the first player in team history to return both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown as a Buccaneer. That put the Bucs up 28-17 and continued the former undrafted free agent's stunning emergence since he was signed off the practice squad in late October.
In between those two returns, Tampa Bay's offense, which had struggled in the opening period, awoke for touchdown drives of 50, 69 and 24 yards. RB Warrick Dunn finished the first one with a dazzling, spinning 13-yard touchdown run, his first score since the second week of the season. Dunn was the Buccaneers' primary ballcarrier with Earnest Graham now on injured reserve and he recorded 127 combined rushing and receiving yards. Dunn's 90 yards on 14 carries was highlighted by a season-long 40-yard jaunt in the third quarter.
The Bucs' next drive covered 69 yards in five minutes, with QB Jeff Garcia converting three third downs along the way. The last was a 36-yard TD strike to WR Ike Hilliard on which Garcia scrambled and then hit Hilliard on the run. Garcia, a former Lion who last year completed 37 of 45 passes at Ford Field in a Buccaneer loss, hit on 13 of 18 passes for 165 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was his first multiple-TD pass game of the season.
Two minutes later, Barber snared his first interception of the season, giving the Bucs the ball back at Detroit's 24. Garcia needed just one play to find TE Jerramy Stevens over the middle for a 24-yard scoring strike. Stevens continued to step up in the absence of starting TE Alex Smith, grabbing two passes for 29 yards a week after setting career highs with six for 84.
The 21-point second quarter tied for the third most points in a single period in Buccaneers franchise history and was the team's best quarter since a 21-point fourth stanza at Chicago on Dec. 17, 2006.
Barber later added the 11th regular-season defensive score of his illustrious career, most among any active players (he had been tied with Minnesota S Darren Sharper). Barber is among the all-time greats in that category, ranking third in NFL history to Rod Woodson (13) and Aeneas Williams (12). Barber has 13 career touchdowns when one includes his memorable postseason interception return in Philadelphia in 2002 and a punt return touchdown he tallied in 1998. His eight interception return touchdowns, including playoffs, is now one more than Derrick Brooks' seven for most in Buccaneer history.
Barber's big plays spearheaded a Buccaneer defense that went back into lockdown mode after that tough first quarter. Detroit had 114 yards of offense after the first quarter but just 93 the rest of the way. The Lions converted four of their first six third-down attempts against the best third-down defense in the league but none of their last eight.
Lions QB Daunte Culpepper completed five of his first seven passes but finished the game eight of 20 for 121 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a 37.7 passer rating. He was briefly replaced by Drew Stanton in the second half, and Stanton completed two of six passes for 13 yards before sustaining a concussion.
A week after recording a season-high five sacks, the Bucs got four more against Culpepper on Sunday, forcing him out of the pocket for much of the afternoon. DE Jimmy Wilkerson, a late-game star in last week's win over Minnesota, had two of the four sacks along with four solo tackles. Fellow ends Gaines Adams and Greg White had one sack each. Adams also broke up two passes and had two quarterback hits.
The Buccaneers even found time to get Williams some work, as they had hoped coming in. Carrying the ball repeatedly on the game's final two drives, Williams ran 16 times for 27 yards, and while his 1.7-yard average was overwhelming, he had several nice cuts and ran with power between the tackles.
That first quarter was disheartening, of course, especially as the Bucs appeared to be in danger of giving the 0-10 Lions their first win of the year. The key play of Detroit's early surge occurred on the very first snap that Bucs RB Cadillac Williams played this season.
Williams' impressive comeback from a knee injury suffered last September may eventually prove to be a difference-maker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2008 playoff race. On Sunday in Detroit, however, Williams' first action of the year led to a bad moment. On the play, Williams collided with Garcia as the quarterback was preparing to pass, knocking the ball loose. There was no one between Bullocks and the end zone when he picked up the ball on a bounce.
The Lions had opened the scoring on their second possession of the game, driving 71 yards on seven plays, the biggest a 41-yard grab by WR Calvin Johnson. Johnson used his size advantage to pluck the ball over Barber, and then exploited that edge again two plays later on a 15-yard TD catch.
The Lions won the toss and took the ball. Culpepper's first completion of the game, a 17-yard strike to WR Shaun McDonald, converted a third-and-seven and got the ball close to midfield. On the next third down, however, Wilkerson sacked Culpepper for a loss of 14 back to the 34 and the Lions had to punt.
DE Corey Smith, another of the Lions' former Buccaneers, consigned Tampa Bay's offense to a similar fate on its first drive, as he sacked Garcia on third-and-and-three for a loss of 10. After that three-and-out, Josh Bidwell blasted a 54-yard punt that pushed Detroit back to its own 29.
Culpepper escaped what was almost another sack by Wilkerson on the next third down, buying time to hit TE Casey FitzSimmons for a gain of eight. On the next play, Culpepper went up top to Johnson and, despite on-the-spot coverage by Barber, hit him for a gain of 41 down to the Bucs' 17. Barber was actually running in front of Johnson but the 6-5 receiver used his seven-inch height advantage to pluck the ball out of the air over the defender. Three plays later, Culpepper and Johnson hooked up again on a simple slant with Johnson once again using his huge frame to advantage in front of the defender to catch a 15-yard touchdown pass on third-and-eight.
The Bucs moved over midfield two plays into their next drive, but disaster struck moments later on Bullocks' return touchdown.
Williams was back in the game on the ensuing drive and he took his first carry of the year over left guard for a gain of four. He was buried in the backfield for a loss of six on the next play, however, putting the Bucs into a third-and-12, and Garcia's next pass was incomplete.
The game continued to unravel early for the Buccaneers at that point, as Bidwell's 32-yard punt bounced out of bounds at the Lions' 44 and Smith shot up the middle for a gain of 26 two plays later. The Bucs' defense held at that point but Detroit still pushed its lead to 17-0 on Hanson's first field goal.
As he did in Kansas City in Week Eight, Smith gave the Bucs a boost when they were down, returning the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the midfield stripe. Williams converted a third-and-one to gain a first down at the Lions' 39, and an Hilliard catch-and-run got 15 yards down to the Detroit 13. On the next snap, Dunn shot up the middle, pulled off a nifty spin move and darted into the end zone for his second touchdown of the year.
Unfortunately, Aveion Cason followed with a 32-yard kickoff return out to the Lions' 40. However, Wilkerson struck again on third down, dropping Culpepper for a loss of 10 and forcing a punt from the 30. After Nick Harris' 52-yard punt, the Bucs were at their own 31 with nine and a half minutes left in the half.
Garcia and WR Antonio Bryant hooked up for a 10-yard gain on third-and-eight to move the chains, and a scrambling 17-yard toss to Dunn put the ball at Detroit's 33. The Bucs were facing a third-and-13 three plays later when Garcia scrambled up and to his left and, on the run, fired a 36-yard touchdown strike down the middle of the field to Hilliard. That pulled the Bucs to within three with 4:40 to play in the half. Garcia was hit hard just after releasing the ball and he landed first on his right shoulder and was clearly shaken up.
Adams got the next drive started off well for the Buccaneers by sacking Culpepper after a first-down false start. And Barber ended it with his first interception of the year. On third-and-16, Barber cut in front of McDonald to catch a low pass and barely hang on at the Lions' 24.
The Bucs needed one play to turn that pick into seven. Garcia dropped back to pass and found Stevens running wide open down the left seam. The pass was on target and Stevens caught it as he crossed the goal line to give the Bucs a 21-17 lead with three minutes to play in the half.
Two gashing runs up the middle by Smith, for 11 and 14 yards, allowed the Lions to get to the Bucs' 48 as the two-minute warning arrived. The Bucs used the break to dial up a challenge that Smith fumbled at the end of the second run but the play was upheld. Tampa Bay didn't get the ball but they did get the stop, thanks in large part to a holding penalty against rookie tackle Gosder Cherilus that erased an impressive 13-yard catch that McDonald made while lying on his back. Culpepper did get off a deep sideline pass in Johnson's direction on third-and-22, but S Sabby Piscitelli was able to knock it away.
The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half but stalled immediately, with Bidwell blasting a 59-yard punt to push the Lions back to their own 23. The Bucs' defense then came up with a three-and-out of its own and the special teams produced the game's next points. Smith's 70-yard jaunt, which got one finally bit of aid from fellow rookie Aqib Talib and Talib's block of the last pursuer.
The Lions' next drive ended in three plays, thanks in part to a Detroit false start and in part to no call on a deep pass attempt to Johnson in which he and Piscitelli made contact down the right sideline.
Detroit did get the ball back in Buccaneers territory just a minute later when DE Cliff Avril sacked Garcia from behind, forcing a fumble that was recovered by former Buccaneer DT Chuck Darby at the Bucs' 40. That possession didn't last long.
Barber gave the defense its first score of the game on the next play. Leaping in front of McDonald to snatch Culpepper's pass out of the air, Barber caught the ball, barely kept his feet inbounds and then eluded several tacklers while returning the pick 65 yards for a touchdown.
The Lions relieved Culpepper on the next drive, and he gave them their first first down of the second half with a 10-yard strike to Johnson on third-and-seven. The drive reached Buccaneer territory before stalling, but Hilliard fumbled on the ensuing punt and the Lions recovered at the Bucs' 26. Tampa Bay's defense held again but the Lions still got three points on Hanson's 40-yard field goal.
Smith fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return but Jameel Cook recovered for the Buccaneers at the 17. Runs of five and negative-three yards by Dunn led to a third-and-eight, and Garcia's next pass was incomplete. However, a roughing-the-passer penalty against Cory Redding led to a new set of downs at the Lions' 34.
On the next play, Dunn broke off a 40-yard run down to the Lions' 26. Two plays later, on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Garcia hit Bryant on a quick slant just off the line and Bryant broke a tackle to get 16 yards down to the nine. Most of that came back on a personal foul call on G Davin Joseph, but it was still first down at the 24. The drive stalled there when Garcia tripped while coming out from under center on third down, but Matt Bryant pushed the lead to 38-20 with a 48-yard field goal.
DE Greg White started the next drive with a sack of Culpepper, back in the game due to a concussion suffered by Stanton. The Lions had to punt it away a few plays later with 10 minutes left in the game. The Bucs ran Williams three times to drain two minutes from the clock, then punted. On the next play, WR John Standeford caught an 18-yard pass over the middle but had it poked away by CB Phillip Buchanon. S Will Allen recovered for the Buccaneers at Detroit's 46.
Williams continued to get a shot to round into form, running the ball on the next seven plays and pounding it down to the Detroit 27. Williams converted one fourth-and-one play with a two-yard run, then the Bucs let B.J. Askew take it on the next fourth down. The fullback barreled up the middle for three yards on fourth-and-two. The Bucs ran out the clock from there.
Tampa Bay improves to 8-3 with the victory, their second-best mark after 11 games after their 9-2 start in 2002. The Lions fall to 0-11.
Game Notes: The Buccaneers finished the season 4-0 against teams from the NFC North this season, having previously beaten Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota. The Buccaneers used to share a division with those four teams, as a member of the NFC Central from 1977-2001. The Buccaneers all-time record against Detroit is now 25-27-0, and that marks the team's most wins against any opponent. Tampa Bay is 12-15 all-time in Detroit. ... Sunday's win over the Lions moved the Buccaneers back to .500 on the road this season. They are 3-3 away from home in 2008, with road trips to Atlanta and Carolina still on the docket. … With his second catch of the game, RB Warrick Dunn moved into fifth place on the Buccaneers' all-time receptions list, passing Kevin House, who had 286 catches from 1980-86. Dunn's five catches on the day gave him 290 as a Buccaneer. … QB Jeff Garcia surpassed Shaun King on the Bucs' all-time passing chart on his second completion of the game. The 17-yard strike to WR Antonio Bryant moved Garcia into seventh, as he bested King's 4,064 yards as a Buc. Garcia finished with 165 yards on the day to give him 4,223 as a Buccaneer. … Dunn's 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was his 28th as a Buccaneer. That gave him sole possession of sixth place on the Bucs' all-time TD list, moving him out of a tie with Mark Carrier and putting him one behind Joey Galloway for fifth place. … The Buccaneers have allowed 34 first-quarter points in their last three outings. In the first eight games combined, they had surrendered just 20 first-quarter points. … RB Clifton Smith's 70-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first for a score for Tampa Bay since Joey Galloway scored on a 59-yarder against New Orleans on Dec. 19, 2004. It was the seventh-longest punt return in team annals. … K Jason Hanson's second field goal of the day was the 400th of his long and successful career. He is just the sixth player in NFL history to reach 400 field goals made. … The Buccaneers scored on offense, defense and special teams in their win over the Lions on Sunday. That's the first time the team has tallied a TD in all three categories since its win over Atlanta on December 16 of last year. That game included the first kickoff return for a touchdown in franchise history, a 90-yarder by Micheal Spurlock, as well as a Ronde Barber interception return that started the scoring in a 37-3 decision. … The Bucs are 5-1 this season in games in which their opponent scores first. They had just five such victories in the previous four seasons combined.
Inactives: The Buccaneers named the following eight players inactive before Sunday's game: QB Brian Griese, WR Dexter Jackson, S Jermaine Phillips, RB Noah Herron, T James Lee, TE Alex Smith, DT Greg Peterson and designated third quarterback Josh Johnson. Griese, Phillips and Smith were out due to injury.
The Lions named the following eight players inactive: C Dominic Raiola, WR Mike Furrey, DE Dewayne White, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Keith Smith, LB Anthony Cannon, T Damion Cook and DT Landon Cohen. Raiola, Furrey, White, Orlovsky and Smith were out due to injury.
Injuries: For the Buccaneers, WR Antonio Bryant injured an ankle in the second quarter but did return.
For the Lions, RB Kevin Smith suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter but did return before the period was over. QB Drew Stanton suffered a concussion in the third quarter and did not return.