WR Joey Galloway caught seven passes for 166 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown for the winning points
Football, it's been said countless times, is a game of inches. On Sunday, the difference was even smaller for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Detroit Lions. Try a blade of grass.
The Buccaneers held onto a 17-13 victory over the Lions on Sunday to move to 4-0 for the first time since 1997, when they opened the season 5-0. If not for the NFL's instant replay system, it would have been the Bucs' first loss of the season.
Detroit TE Marcus Pollard made a sliding catch on the right edge of the end zone with 13 seconds to play and the official on the spot ruled a touchdown. However, the play was reviewed and replays showed Pollard's lead knee sliding off the green and onto the white mere milliseconds before the ball settled into his hands.
"Thank God for instant replay," said Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden.
"That's a great win for us. We beat a team that we had a lot of respect for. We knew they would be well-prepared after the bye week. They were – they were well-prepared and they were physical."
So was the Bucs' defense, which lived up to it's top-ranked billing by allowing only 226 yards. The Bucs still had to stop two more plays after Pollard's non-catch, but QB Joey Harrington's two passes to the opposite edge of the end zone were incomplete. The first was another near-touchdown, as Tampa native Mike Williams caught the ball over a leaping Juran Bolden but landed with his front foot on the line.
Eighty-six of Detroit's 226 yards came on that last drive, which started at the Detroit seven with five minutes to play. All of the Lions' points came on short drives following turnovers, as the Bucs lost the takeaway battle, 4-1. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Detroit had driven inside the Bucs' 10 after an interception by S Terrence Holt, but the Tampa Bay defense held and forced a field goal.
With the win, the 2005 Bucs have done something even the 2002, Super Bowl-winning Bucs never did. It's a first for Gruden, too.
"Having been in the NFL for 15 years and having been on some pretty good teams, I've never been on a 4-0 team," said Gruden. "That's a hell of a start for our team; granted, we have a long way to go."
During the team's ultimately successful chase of the crown three seasons ago, Head Coach Jon Gruden broke the season into fourths for his players and implored them to win each quarter, as if it were a single game.
And that they did, with four consecutive 3-1 "quarters," enough for a team-record 12 regular-season victories. They never had an undefeated quarter, however. These Bucs do, and just the third 4-0 start in franchise history. The 1979 and 1997 both opened the season 5-0 en route to the playoffs.
The 2005 team isn't yet thinking about the postseason, but maybe it should. There are only two other 4-0 teams in the NFL [Indianapolis and Cincinnati], and none in the NFC. The Washington Redskins won in overtime on Sunday to move to 3-0.
The game didn't follow the pattern of the Bucs' first three games, namely ball-control with rookie RB Cadillac Williams and a slew of turnovers by the defense. For the first time, Williams wasn't a factor, as he carried only 11 times for 15 yards before leaving with a hamstring injury. Cue Michael Pittman
With the Bucs taking it easy on Williams and going to the air from the beginning, Pittman proved his worth as a pass-receiver, catching five passes for 96 yards. He also contributed five tough runs for 30 yards, giving him 126 total yards on the day and proving he could keep the Bucs moving when the electric rookie is out of the game. Even better, Gruden said Williams injury wasn't serious.
"We think he's okay," said the coach. "He had a mild hamstring. Having missed a number of practices, and the fact that Pittman was playing pretty well with Earnest Graham we felt comfortable going without him."
Pittman's biggest play was a 41-yard pass down the right sideline on third-and-three late in the first half, as he beat LB Teddy Lehman easily and completed a 90-yard drive with the game-tying score. Minutes earlier, Lehman had intercepted a Brian Griese pass to set up Detroit RB Kevin Jones for an eight-yard touchdown run.
In truth, the Bucs' offense struggled for large portions of the game without Williams, who had run for a league-leading 434 yards in the team's 3-0 start. QB Brian Griese was knocked a bit "woozy" by a hit early in the game and the Bucs prepared reserve Chris Simms just in case.
Griese stayed in but threw three interceptions and had another erased by a penalty, and his 56.4% completion rate was well below the 68.8% mark he had established in his first 14 Buccaneer games. However, he mixed in two of his prettiest throws of the year, including the perfect pass on Pittman's touchdown, after the back had darted out of the backfield and straight up the numbers. Three plays into the second half, Griese connected perfectly with WR Joey Galloway on a deep post, allowing Galloway to catch the ball without losing any speed and split right between the last two Detroit defenders. Eighty yards later, he was in the end zone and the Bucs were up 17-10. Gruden said the play was the result of a heady audible by Griese.
Still, the early turnovers explained how Detroit was able to take a 10-10 into halftime despite gaining only 98 yards of total offense in the first two quarters. Other than the three short scoring drives, the Bucs' defense was as strong as it had been in September, and that set the stage for the thrilling second half.
Galloway had one of his best games since a 2004 trade brought him over to the Bucs from the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, he racked up a career-high 166 yards on seven catches and was often on the receiving end of Griese's big third-down throws. A groin injury cost the speedy veteran the first half of his first season with the Bucs, but since he returned in November last year he has been exactly the explosive threat Gruden was counting on. Galloway has nine touchdowns in his last nine games, dating back to the last five contests of 2004, and has 37 receptions for 621 yards in the same span.
Given that production, it was an uncomfortable moment in the third quarter when Galloway limped off the field after his seventh catch and was carted into the locker room. Galloway ran back out to the sideline to cheers from an observant crowd, and hastily grabbed his helmet to go back into the game, though he wouldn't have another pass thrown his way. As it turned out, he was just suffering from cramps, and an IV got him ready to go again. Gruden didn't hesitate to put him back on the field.
"You should have seen him when he was 22 years old coming out of Ohio State before two serious injuries," said Gruden. "This guy's very fast, and very good. He's instinctive, and still very fast. He proved that today. We haven't had many 80-yard touchdowns in the history of this franchise."
Pittman, Galloway and the Bucs' defense will get the credit for this win, and deservedly so, but reserve a share for T Kenyatta Walker. For the second straight week, Walker hustled into position for a touchdown-saving tackle after an interception, and this time his effort was nothing short of critical. Midway through the fourth quarter, with the Bucs leading 14-10, Holt intercepted a Griese pass in Detroit territory and weaved up and across the field to an open lane on the opposite sideline. Holt made it past 11 Bucs but Walker made a diving stop at the Bucs' 23 to prevent a touchdown. Detroit would get only a field goal and still trail by four with the last half of the fourth quarter to go.
Penalties continue to plague the Bucs on special teams. The Bucs could have had the ball deep in Detroit territory to start the second quarter after a long punt return by WR Mark Jones, but it was erased by two flags on CB Blue Adams on the opposite side of the field. That was actually the second try at that punt, as the first one had been overturned by offsetting penalties. In the fourth quarter, with the Bucs holding a four-point lead and trying to drain the last seven minutes, back-to-back penalties on the offensive line forced the Bucs to punt despite consecutive runs of seven yards each by Pittman and Earnest Graham.
In all, the Bucs committed seven penalties for 55 yards (actually, a season low), also dooming several other drives to quick punts with early infractions.
The Bucs had 90 yards on their second-to-last drive of the first half and the Lions had 98 yards in the entire first half, but it was still 10-10 as both teams headed to the locker rooms for intermission.
Though the Bucs had the league's number-one rush defense entering the game, the Lions were still determined to test the middle, and that they did, successfully at first. Jones' first two runs picked up 11 yards and the game's initial first down on the opening possession. However, Detroit quickly found itself in a third-and-six hole and had to punt after Harrington's deep pass to Williams was incomplete. Bolden had good coverage on the play, but he almost gave up a big play when he cut behind the receiver and the ball went over his hands, but Williams couldn't quite haul it in with nothing but open field in front of him.
The Bucs, in contrast, went right to the air. After a 15-yard interference penalty on Detroit's punt set the Bucs up at their own 46, Griese threw on the first three plays. The second toss was out to Galloway in the flat, and Galloway spun out of the tackle and sped 31 yards downfield to the Lions' 18.
When the Bucs did go to the ground, it worked as well as always. Williams took a second-and-10 handoff off left guard and darted upfield for 12 yards, down to the six. Unfortunately, the Lions' defense put up an impressive goal-line stand, actually stopping the Bucs on six plays inside the 10 thanks to a pass-interference penalty that gave the home team a new set of downs.
After that call on Holt put the ball at the one, a false start moved the Bucs back to the six and they never got any closer. In fact, two consecutive sacks pushed the Bucs all the way back to the 24. The second sack apparently occurred when Griese and C John Wade were on one snap count and the rest of the offensive line was on another. Still, K Matt Bryant calmly nailed the longer field goal, a 43-yarder, and the Bucs had a 3-0 lead seven minutes into the game.
A trick pooch attempt on the ensuing kickoff didn't work, but the Buc defense forced an immediate three-and-out and the Bucs got the ball back at their own 17. Unfortunately, a facemask penalty on Pittman put the offense into a whole from which it couldn't climb despite an 11-yard run and a nine-yard reception by Pittman.
A 50-yard punt by Josh Bidwell helped turn the field position around and another three-and-out put it back into the Bucs' hands at their own 31 as the first quarter ended. A long return into Detroit territory was erased by a holding penalty on CB Blue Adams, the Bucs' third penalty of the opening quarter.
Three plays into the second quarter, the tide turned in Detroit's favor. Trying to pass on third-and-five, Griese had his arm hit by DE Kalimba Edwards, forcing a fumble that Detroit recovered at Tampa Bay's 33. The Lions only got seven yards, as Harrington could find nowhere to throw on third-and-four, and had to settle for Jason Hanson's 44-yard, game-tying field goal.
The Bucs' offensive struggles continued on the following drive, as Williams' loss of five on first down proved too much to overcome. Griese absorbed a big hit from CB R.W. McQuarters on a third-down scramble but came up four yards short on third-and-11.
The Lions could get nowhere, either, but they still scored next. After a punt went out of the bounds at the Bucs' 15, the home team quickly fell into a third-and-nine. Griese tried to hit WR Ike Hilliard over the middle, but Lehman was in perfect position to pick it off and return the interception down to the Bucs' eight.
A penalty cost Detroit five yards, back to the 13, before first down. Two runs by Jones took care of matters, however. After the first one got five yards, the second one put it into the end zone, as Jones bounced off a tackle by S Jermaine Phillips at the three, giving the Lions a 10-3 lead with five minutes to play in the half.
Predictably, the Bucs started their next drive at their own 10 thanks to a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff. However, Tampa Bay's offense finally got untracked a bit, as Griese's third-down passes to Pittman and Galloway moved the chains on third-and-10 and third-and-12 and put the ball just over midfield as the two-minute warning arrived. The Bucs also saw the benefit of a holding call on CB Andre` Goodman that erased Goodman's interception.
Griese also connected on his next third-down pass, and it was a big one. Facing third-and-three at the Detroit 41, Pittman lined up split right in the backfield and darted out into the right flat. LB Teddy Lehman came over to cover, but Pittman continued up the right sideline and Griese hit him perfectly in stride, allowing the back to beat the defense to the front corner of the end zone, tying the game at 10-10 with 1:12 left in the half.
The Lions moved right back into Bucs territory on two completions, the first a 34-yard pump-and-go from Harrington to Roy Williams. However, on the second catch, a seven-yarder by Pollard, CB Brian Kelly came off his man and hit Pollard square, forcing a fumble that DE Ellis Wyms recovered at the Lions' 46.
The Bucs couldn't make anything out of it, as Griese's fourth pass was intercepted by CB R.W. McQuarters. McQuarters scrambled around the field as time expired before stepping out of bounds at the Bucs' 43. Bucs T Anthony Davis sustained a shoulder stinger on the play and was sidelined for the second half. Veteran Todd Steussie took over at left tackle and received praise for his play from Head Coach Jon Gruden.
The Bucs can match the best start in franchise history with a victory next Sunday in New York against the Jets.
Game Notes: WR Joey Galloway's 80-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter was the second-longest reception of his career. He had an 81-yard touchdown catch against San Diego on Oct. 25, 1998, when he was still with his first team, the Seattle Seahawks. The play also tied for the sixth-longest completion in Buccaneer history and the longest since 1992. It was also Griese's longest completion as a Buccaneer. … CB Ronde Barber's sack of QB Joey Harrington in the third quarter put him on the verge of a remarkable career achievement. It was his 19th career sack and, coupled with his 23 interceptions, it left him one sack shy of being the first cornerback in NFL history to have 20 picks and 20 sacks. Barber has had at least one sack in each of the last eight seasons. … The Buccaneers have won their first two home games of the season for the first time since Raymond James Stadium's inaugural season. The Bucs' last 2-0 start at home was in 1998, when they beat Chicago, 27-15, in Week Three and the N.Y. Giants, 20-3, in Week Five. In both 2003 and 2004, the Bucs lost their first two home games of the year. … The Buccaneers' 4-0 start is not only the third best in team history, following 5-0 beginnings in 1979 and 1997, it is the team's longest winning streak since a four-game run of victories in the middle of 2002 (Oct. 27 – Nov. 24) … Sunday's victory was the Bucs' fourth in a row over Detroit, dating back to a two-game sweep in 2001 when the two teams were both in the NFC Central. The four-game streak matches the Bucs' longest current run against any team. Tampa Bay has also won its last four against Cincinnati. … The Bucs don't try too much trickery on special teams under Head Coach Jon Gruden, but they took a stab at it early in Sunday's game, to no avail. Kicking off after the Bucs' game-opening field goal, K Matt Bryant pooched a short kick between the first two lines of the Lions' return unit. DE Jared DeVries kept the strategy from working by controlling the ball at the Lions' 38. … The Bucs are slowly testing K Matt Bryant's range. His first four field goals of the season were from 40, 41, 42 and 43 yards, the last one providing the first points in Sunday's game. Bryant later missed on a 46-yarder in the second half, his first misfire of the year.
Inactives: The Buccaneers designated eight game day inactives 90 minutes before kickoff. They were S Donte Nicholson, S Dexter Jackson, T Chris Colmer, DT Anthony Bryant, G/T Matt Stinchcomb, WR Paris Warren, WR J.R. Russell and designated third quarterback Luke McCown.
The Lions eight inactives were FB Cory Schlesinger, S Vernon Fox, LB Alex Lewis, WR Scottie Vines, CB Stanley Wilson, G David Loverne, DE Bill Swancutt and designated third quarterback Jeff Garcia..
Injuries: RB Cadillac Williams missed most of the second half with a hamstring injury. LB Shelton Quarles sustained a sprained left wrist in the first quarter but it did not force him to miss any time. The same was true of S Jermaine Phillips, who suffered a sprained right thumb in the second quarter. T Anthony Davis suffered a left shoulder injury on the last play of the first half and did not play in the second half.
For the Lions, DE James Hall sustained a groin injury early in the second half and did not return. CB Keith Smith suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter.