K Martin Gramatica was ecstatic after his first game-winning field goal of the season
In terms of one game, not everything went according to plan for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in the Pontiac Silverdome.
In terms of the Bucs' season, however, this is just as it was drawn up on the preseason chalkboard. Ronde Barber interceptions, Warren Sapp sacks, Derrick Brooks forced fumbles, Warrick Dunn darting touchdowns, Mike Alstott rumbling runs up the middle, Karl Williams' dazzling punt returns.
Oh, and lest we forget, a clutch Martin Gramatica field goal.
Those elements added up to a last-second, 20-17 Buc win over Detroit on Sunday, evening Tampa Bay's record at 4-4 and keeping the Lions winless after eight tries. It was far from a blowout – in fact, it was as tense as just about every Buc game this season as Detroit rallied for a tying 10 points in the fourth quarter. But an opportunistic offense led by Alstott and Dunn made the most of turnovers produced by the Buccaneer defense and a perfect two-minute drill turned back a 10-point, fourth-quarter rally by the Lions.
Perhaps more than anything, however, it was a case of quick and sweet redemption for Williams.
Midway through the third quarter, the Bucs' defense stopped Detroit again, forcing a punt, but Williams muffed the catch and the Lions recovered at the Bucs' 26. Eight grueling play later, FB Cory Schlesinger bashed into the end zone from one yard out, cutting the Bucs' lead to three points, 10-7.
However, as the third quarter came to an end, Williams took another punt at the Bucs' 16, beat the first two defenders to the left side, cut inside another Lion tackler than outraced punter John Jett to the sideline. From there, Williams cut off key blocks from Rabih Abdullah and David Gibson to run untouched 84 yards into the end zone. On the play, Williams also became, in rather dramatic fashion, the Bucs' all-time leader in punt return yards.
The Bucs were thus leading in the fourth quarter of a division road game for the third time in three trips. And, just as they did in Minnesota and Green Bay, the Bucs let the lead slip away, as Detroit QB Charlie Batch led the Lions on drives of 37 and 61 yards in the last half of the last quarter to knot the game at 17-17.
This time, however, the Bucs had two minutes left on the clock, which proved to be enough for QB Brad Johnson and the Bucs' hurry-up offense. Tampa Bay drove 63 yards on eight plays in a shade under two minutes, setting up Gramatica's 35-yard game-winner with four seconds left. On the drive, Johnson threw a stunningly accurate 18-yard crossing route to WR Keyshawn Johnson on third-and-three from the Bucs' 27.
The play was reviewed and upheld, as was Alstott's seven-yard catch on the next play. On second down from just over midfield, Johnson stood in the pocket for a long time, double-pumped and eventually dropped off a short pass to Dunn. Dunn darted upfield for a gain of 23 yards, virtually all Gramatica would need. After the true field goal, the Bucs covered the resulting kickoff and left with their first division road win. Only Green Bay, which won at Chicago on the same afternoon, also has a win on the road in the Central.
There were a few moments, to be sure, that were more Etch-A-Sketch than chalkboard, such as the sight of Gramatica trying to throw a touchdown pass to TE Dave Moore. An impressive, length-of-the-field drive by the Bucs in the first quarter ended badly after WR Reidel Anthony saw a perfect touchdown pass go through his hands on third down from the five. On the resulting field goal try, Sean McDermott's snap was too low and hard for Mark Royals to handle, leading to Gramatica's desperation pass in Moore's direction.
Midway through the second quarter, another bizarre play left the Bucs disappointed, after an apparent fumble return for a touchdown by Barber was overturned by a Detroit replay challenge. Barber basically walked 30 yards into the end zone as the Lion players stood around believing the play to be dead, but the officials signaled a touchdown as no whistle was blown. Replay showed FB Cory Schlesinger's elbow touching the ground before the ball came loose.
Despite those lost opportunities, the Bucs built a 10-0 lead by halftime, scoring twice off Detroit turnovers, and then held on through that tense fourth quarter.
CB Ronde Barber ended a promising Lions drive early in the second quarter with the first of his two interceptions on the game, giving him a career-best and team-high five picks this year. Barber, who was seemingly all over the field on Sunday, finished with seven tackles, two interceptions, four passes defensed and several quarterback pressures.. The Bucs capitalized on that first pick with a 61-yard field goal drive, much of it gained on four runs for 35 yards by Alstott.
Three plays later, Brooks tackled scrambling backup QB Mike McMahon at the Lions' 30, forcing a fumble that DT Chartric Darby recovered. Four plays later, the Bucs were in the end zone, as Dunn caught a 13-yard pass on third-and-five and followed with a 12-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass on the next play.
The Bucs failed to score off Barber's fourth-quarter interception, but the amazingly acrobatic pick ended a promising Detroit scoring threat. It also ended the Bucs' three-game streak of scoring off of seven straight turnovers.
Keyshawn Johnson was hit extremely hard on the first play of the game, a quick screen that the Lions read perfectly, and was visibly angry. He channeled that emotion into seven receptions for 72 yards, the most by any receiver on the day. He know has 59 catches on the season and no less than five in any game.
Brad Johnson completed 20 of 37 passes for 188 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, and Alstott and Dunn combined almost evenly for 99 rushing yards (51 by Dunn, 48 by Alstott). Dunn also caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, giving him 111 combined yards on the day.
The Bucs' defense was very strong against the run all day, holding starter Reuben Droughns to 30 yards on 13 carries and the Lions as a whole to 52 yards and 2.3 yards per carry. Batch's late rallies, however, gave him 239 passing yards on 21 of 39 passing.
Brooks had eight tackles and the forced fumble, while Sapp recorded sacks on two consecutive plays, giving him three for the season. The Bucs sacked Batch five times, including one each by LB Jamie Duncan, DE Simeon Rice and DT Chartric Darby.
The Bucs came into the game worried about containing return man Desmond Howard and were relatively successful in that regard. One 12-yard Howard punt return jumpstarted a fourth-quarter Detroit scoring drive but overall he got just 37 yards on four punt returns and 79 yards on four kickoff returns.
Williams, on the other hand, finished with 116 punt return yards on six runbacks. With those 116 yards, he pushed his career total to 1,602 yards, passing Danny Reece (1,556) on the Bucs' all-time chart.
During the contest, Buccaneers.com provided quarter-by-quarter reports on the action, complete with descriptions of all the key plays. Those reports follow to give a closer look at the Bucs' fourth win of the season.
First Quarter Report