One week ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mounted their fifth come-from-behind victory of the season, a stunning total for the league's youngest and least experienced team. The Buccaneers also won their fifth road game of the season, another surprising accomplishment for a team that has been considered the underdog almost every Sunday this fall. And, most importantly, they notched their eighth victory overall, an outcome that kept them right in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt.
And it's that last fact that renders the first two – and any other surprising achievement by the 2010 Buccaneers – irrelevant for the moment. Now is not the time for enjoying what has been accomplished so far. Instead, the Bucs most focus on their most important game of the season.
"You've always got to go out and play the game," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "It's fun to look back at what you've done, but right now is not the time to reflect. You've got to go be your best self and get ready for the Detroit Lions coming in. They're the most important game on the schedule."
The Lions are 3-10 and not a part of the playoff-stretch end-game. However, they are a much more formidable opponent than their record would suggest, as the Green Bay Packers found out last week. The Buccaneers will definitely not take the Lions for granted, despite Detroit's NFL-record 26-game road losing streak, but they also feel as if they're prepared to play their best game of the season.
"I'm really confident in the team, but not because of what they've done in previous weeks," said Morris. "It's more about how they execute during the week and how they prepare. Preparation's the most important thing for us. If we can get these guys prepared the right way, they'll go out and play the right way, and that's what we care about.
We got a nice detailed day in on Wednesday. We came back and had a fast, physical, tough day on Thursday. And Friday we talked about speed. Saturday we had our walk-through and settled all our issues, and finally we get to today's game and we're ready to play."
A few young Buccaneers are ready to play quite a bit more than in previous games. The Bucs lost rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Quincy Black to season-ending injuries last week – the sixth and seventh starters placed on I.R. in the last three weeks – meaning a new group of reserves will be stepping into larger roles. That's another fact the Bucs haven't spent much time worrying about as they prepared for the Lions.
"It's a war of attrition," said Morris. "We always talk about the next man stepping up, and your replacement coming in and being better than you. These guys have taken that challenge to heart and done a great job. I'm really looking forward to seeing these new guys go out there and play."
At defensive tackle, the most likely addition to the starting lineup is rookie Al Woods, though the specific package the Lions use for their first play could affect that. Woods will see extensive playing time at nose tackle, allowing Roy Miller to slide into the three-technique spot that McCoy had filled until the Washington game. Defensive tackle Frank Okam, a midseason waiver claim, will be active for the first time as a Buccaneer and will factor into the mix as well.
"We have Okam, we have Al Woods and we have Roy Miller who can all go inside for us," said Morris. "We also know we can put [defensive end] Michael Bennett in there in a different role. He can go in there and do a couple things for us as well. He's done a great job at the end position and now we can move him back and forth accordingly."
At Black's strongside linebacker spot, the Bucs will use the same strategy that proved effective against Carolina and San Francisco in November. In those two games, both victories and both strong outings for Tampa Bay's defense, Black's absence was filled in tandem by linebackers Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson. Hayward and Watson each got one start but rotated during the game so that they could also remain fresh for special teams, where they are two of the team's core contributors.
"We like those two guys going in there and being productive, but also being able to give us stuff on special teams," said Morris. "We want them to be their best selves in both areas, and that's what we look forward to today."
The Bucs' newest defensive pieces will have their hands full with a Detroit offense loaded with special talent at the skill positions. Calvin "Megatron" Johnson is one of the hardest receivers to defend in the NFL, and rookie running back Jahvid Best has displayed breakaway speed and a penchant for big plays. Brandon Pettigrew has quickly emerged as one of the league's top pass-catching tight ends and running back Maurice Morris has recently re-emerged as a valuable weapon. All of these offensive threats will be looking to Drew Stanton, the Lions' third starting quarterback of the season, to feed them the football.
"They've got a really good team, a really talented team they're putting together as we speak," said Morris. "They have Best, we've talked about Megatron, Drew Stanton is coming along and getting them a big win last week. These guys are really coming along."
Stanton will make his fourth straight start as opening-day starter Matthew Stafford is still out with a shoulder injury and his first replacement, Shaun Hill, is dealing with a finger ailment. Hill did return to practice in a limited fashion this week but the Lions elected to stick with Stanton for at least one more week.
Detroit did have to make a change on its offensive line after placing starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus on injured reserve earlier this week. Stepping in to make his first start is Corey Hilliard. On the other side of the trenches, the Lions recently placed defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch on injured reserve but are still very dangerous thanks largely to the presence of monster rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
"Their defensive line is one of the better ones we've played against, with Suh being the ringleader there and some of the guys like Cliff Avril they've been bringing in over the years," said Morris. "They'll present a nice challenge for us. We have to play our best game, and we'll have a chance.
"It's all about us and our execution. We've got to move the ball with timing and precision, and we've got to stay on the field as long as we can in order to wear these guys down. We've got to not let them be fresh and come after us with their exotic blitzes. We've got to hold up and get the ball to our playmakers."
The Buccaneers declared the following eight players inactive, none of whom were out due to injury: S Larry Asante, CB D.J. Johnson, FB Erik Lorig, G Brandon Carter, T Will Barker, DE George Johnson, WR Dezmon Briscoe and designated third quarterback Rudy Carpenter.
The Lions deactivated these eight players: Stafford, RB Aaron Brown, LB Vinny Ciurciu, LB Landon Johnson, T Tony Ugoh, G Donald Thomas, DE Willie Young and designated third quarterback Zac Robinson. Stafford, Ciurciu and Johnson were out due to injury. Bobby Carpenter will start at OLB in place of Johnson.
The Bucs and Lions kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will post an update of the first-half action during halftime and a detailed game report after the final whistle. In addition, Gene Deckerhoff and Dave Moore of the Buccaneers Radio Network will provide a wrap-up of the action on video after the game.