The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the first half of their season opener with a fine two-minute drill on offense – one of their specialties during a 10-6 2010 campaign – but the Lions' attack was more potent during the opening 30 minutes, taking a 20-13 lead into the intermission.
QB Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offense, coming off a very productive preseason, racked up 310 total yards in the first half and generated four extended drives. The Bucs' defense stiffened in the red zone on the first two to force a pair of Jason Hanson field goals, but Stafford then threw touchdown passes to WR Calvin Johnson and TE Tony Scheffler to build a 20-10 lead. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman used the last 76 seconds of the half to direct a 67-yard drive ending Connor Barth's second field goal of the half.
The Bucs' offense struggled to create first downs early on, but big plays by the defense and special teams actually helped the home team build a 10-3 lead. WR Sammie Stroughter gave the Bucs great field position for their first drive with a 78-yard kickoff return, and after Barth's first field goal, CB Aqib Talib intercepted a tipped Stafford pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
Still, the Lions controlled the ball for nearly 22 of the game's first 30 minutes, and Stafford completed 18 of 25 passes for 265 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His 36-yard scoring pass to Johnson came on a fourth-and-three play.
Freeman was accurate, completing 10 of 16 passes for 98 yards, but he was frequently under pressure, and his one deep attempt to WR Arrelious Benn was intercepted in the end zone. The Bucs ran the ball only six times in the first half, with LeGarrette Blount gaining 13 yards on four tries.
The Buccaneers will get the ball first to start the second half.
Detroit won the toss and chose to receive, and P Michael Koenen predictably kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. The Lions offense got off to a good start when RB Jahvid Best took off on a designed cutback left and found a seam for nine yards. He got four more on second down for the game's initial first down. A well-designed screen to Best picked up 14 more to Detroit 47. Instant penetration by DT Gerald McCoy forced RB Maurice Morris to bounce the next run outside and LB Quincy Black got him for no gain. However, Stafford found Johnson down the left seam for 11 and an end-around to WR Nate Burleson picked up 20 more to the Bucs' 22. Stafford tried to hit Johnson deep on first down but quick pressure forced him to throw errantly off his back foot. A delayed dumpoff to Best worked again and the Lions had a new set of downs at the Bucs' 12, and an encroachment penalty took it to the seven. DT Brian Price hit Best in the backfield on the next play for a loss of three. Stafford just got off a pass over the middle to Burleson on second down for six yards, making it third-and-two from the four. Good coverage by Geno Hayes kept Stafford from hitting TE Brandon Pettigrew in the end zone on third down and the Lions had to settle for Jason Hanson's 23-yard field goal.
Blount's first carry was stopped for no gain but a screen to Winslow was good for five yards, making it third-and-five. Freeman tried to scramble out of trouble on third down but was eventually dropped back at the 20 by Stephen Tulloch. Connor Barth came on to tie the game with a 38-yard field goal.
Touchback number two for Koenen put the Lions at their 20 again, and the Lions soon faced a third-and-three. Stafford tried to hit former Buccaneer TE Will Heller on a short out to the left but the pass was wide and tipped into the air by Heller. Talib alertly grabbed the ball out of the air and returned it 28 yards untouched for the Bucs' first touchdown of the season and a 10-3 lead nine minutes into the game.
Despite a celebration penalty pushing the kickoff line back to the 20, Koenen still got the ball into the end zone for a touchback, as it barely rolled inside the left pylon. After a 15-yard catch by Johnson, the Lions faced a third-and-12 at their own 35 following a fumbled snap that Stafford recovered. Morris moved the chains by taking a short pass over the middle and eluding several tacklers to get to the Bucs' 49. A 19-yard downfield pass to Pettigrew got the Lions to the Bucs' 14 but the defense held in the red zone again. Hanson had to boot another field goal, this one a 28-yarder, after Ronde Barber's hand swipe distracted Pettigrew into dropping a potential touchdown pass.
The Bucs' offense struggled again and had to punt after a three-and-out, but the defense countered with its own stop. S Sean Jones nearly picked off another deflected pass, and great coverage downfield on third-and-17 forced Stafford to throw the ball away. However, the Lions hadn't actually gotten the play off in time, and that gave Stafford another chance. This time he scrambled left and motioned Johnson deep, and his heave nearly turned into a huge play, but Johnson couldn't quite hold on as he, Talib and CB E.J. Biggers all came down in a heap at the 10-yard line. The Lions had to punt for the first time and a 60-yarder by Ryan Donahue pushed the Bucs back to their own 12.
A rollout play-action play by Freeman didn't work as he had to immediately elude a defender and was eventually sacked at the original line of scrimmage. Freeman then found Williams for the first time, throwing him a fade that picked up 18 yards and a first down. Blount found a seam for five yards on the next snap, but it was third-and-five after an incompletion in WR Arrelious Benn's direction. Freeman converted that third down with an extremely precise deep out to Parker for 18 yards to the Detroit 46. However, Freeman tried to go deep to Benn on the next play and CB Chris Houston intercepted the pass as both players ran into the end zone.
Stafford found Johnson wide open on a seam pass on first down and he gained 22 yards to the 42. Best dashed up the middle for nine yards and then the Bucs committed their third encroachment penalty of the half, resulting in a first down at the Bucs' 44. A late hit on a running play by G Stephen Peterman cost the Lions 15 yards. After a short pass to Pettigrew, Stafford dropped back on third-and-11 and got off a short pass to Morris. LB Geno Hayes made a nice open-field tackle but the Lions elected to go for it on fourth-and-three. They got the first down and more, as Johnson got just behind Talib on a double-move and Stafford hit him for a 36-yard touchdown. Talib leaped at the right moment but the ball just got over his fingertips.
A nice four-yard run by Blount started the next drive after a touchback, and the back broke an arm tackle on a second-down handoff to get four more. On third-and-two, Freeman was backing up as he threw but still put it on target to Winslow; unfortunately, S Louis Delmas arrived just in time to knock the pass away. Koenen punted 52 yards and the Bucs coverage team dropped return man Stefan Logan for a loss of four at the Detroit 16.
Rookie DE Da'Quan Bowers stopped Best for a loss of one on a first-down carry, and Stafford found Pettigrew over the middle for five yards on second down. Stafford converted another third down by finding Burleson in the left flat and the receiver made several good moves to get almost to midfield. A bubble screen to WR Rashied Davis produced a first down at the Bucs' 34 but another good run by Morris on a draw was lost to an illegal shift. The Bucs challenged the play thinking Morris may have fumbled at the end, but the original ruling was upheld. As the two-minute warning arrived, Stafford found Pettigrew again for 25 more yards to the Bucs' 14. Another draw play by Best gained three yards, and though Stafford was flushed from the pocket on the next play he was able to throw an 11-yard TD pass to Scheffler to increase Detroit's lead to 20-10.
The Bucs had a little more than a minute to work with after another touchback, and Freeman hit Williams on a 14-yard out to get it started. Williams dived for the catch and then, untouched, alertly rolled over several times to get out of bounds. Two short passes to RB Earnest Graham got the ball to the Bucs' 46 with 36 seconds left. A catch by Parker picked up a first down at the Lions' 45 and the Bucs called their final timeout with 31 seconds remaining in the half. A sideline pass to Winslow got 11 more to the 34 and Freeman spiked the ball with 14 seconds left. The Bucs tried a field goal but the Lions were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for simulating the snap call, moving the line of scrimmage to the 13. From there, Freeman tried a fade to Williams but it was incomplete. There was a lot of contact between Williams and the defender, and Williams wanted a flag but didn't get one. Barth hit a 31-yard field goal to cut Detroit's lead to a touchdown as the first half expired.