Barry buries Bucs
There's a lot of places the Tampa Bay Bucs have been threatening to move to. The end zone is not one of them.
Lacking a killer instinct on offense despite spending much of the night just 3 feet from the goal line, the Bucs lost 14-9 to the Detroit Lions before a national TV audience on ESPN.
The Lions won because they gave the ball to running back Barry Sanders.
The NFL's rushing leader padded his stats by galloping for a career-high 237 yards - 200 of them in the second half.
It was the fifth straight loss for Tampa Bay (2-8) and spoiled a career-high 112-yard rushing night by rookie tailback Errict Rhett - the first time a Bucs running back has gone over the century mark since Reggie Cobb did it more than a year ago against the Lions. After being held to just 37 yards in the first half, Sanders delivered knockout blows to the Bucs with runs of 69 and 48 yards in the second half.
The victory improved the Lions to 5-5 overall and kept them in the playoff hunt, while Tampa Bay clinched its 12th straight non-winning season.
The Bucs entered the game hoping not to embarrass themselves in their only prime-time appearance this season.
There wasn't even the battle of gunslinging quarterbacks to tune into.
Bucs rookie Trent Dilfer suffered a pulled muscle in his rib cage earlier in the week and was replaced by Craig Erickson. And Lions starter Scott Mitchell is out for the season with a broken right hand, forcing veteran Dave Krieg to step in. In 30 minutes, the Bucs showed the nation why they own the league's worst scoring offense.
Twice they drove the ball down the Lions' throats; twice they had a first and goal at the Detroit 1-yard line.
But instead of smelling blood, the Bucs put out an odor all their own when they get near the end zone.
On the first drive of the game, Tampa Bay was forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Michael Husted.
But the real burner happened after Bucs tailback Errict Rhett carried the team on his back for 43 yards in a 79-yard Bucs drive.
On first and goal, Rhett was stopped for no gain. Fullback Anthony McDowell then fumbled the handoff from Erickson and was lucky to recover on second down for a 1-yard loss.
Erickson then threw incomplete to Horace Copeland in the end zone.
That brought out Husted again to save face with a field goal and a chance to go into the locker room leading 6-0.
After all, why go nearly 80 yards, chew up eight minutes and get nothing, right?
But Wyche called a timeout to think about it and wound up second-guessing himself.
Putting the offense back on the field, the Bucs called Rhett's number again, and he was stuffed by former Tampa Bay linebacker Broderick Thomas to give the Lions the ball on downs.
Rhett, held to just 20 rushing yards in 12 carries in his first pro start last week against Chicago, eclipsed that in the first quarter.
He finished the first half with a career-high 81 yards on 17 carries. Nice numbers, but the ones that counted weren't on the scoreboard for the Bucs.
In the first half, the Bucs' defense did a good job of bottling up Sanders, the NFL's rushing leader who entered Sunday's game with seven career 100-yard games against Tampa Bay - including a 166-yard effort in the first meeting this season.
Sanders was limited to just 37 yards in the first half, but you knew it was only a matter of time before he got rolling.
The Lions took the second-half kickoff and marched 83 yards for a touchdown.
Sanders did the damage by slipping out of the grasp of defensive end Eric Curry and dashing 23 yards on third down.
On the next play, Krieg found Brett Perriman for a 37-yard gain.
After Sanders carried twice for another first down, a face-mask penalty on linebacker Hardy Nickerson gave Detroit a first and goal at the Bucs' 1.
But unlike Tampa Bay, the Lions knew where to find the end zone, and Derrick Moore slammed across for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
The Bucs bounced right back as Erickson completed four passes, including two to tight end Tyji Armstrong, who was starting in place of the injured Jackie Harris.
But the drive ended when Erickson missed Copeland on third and 2, and this time Husted stayed on the field to connect on a 41-yard field goal and cut the Lions' lead to 7-6.
The kick brought a sigh of relief to Husted, who had missed six straight field-goal attempts of 40 yards or more prior to that attempt - including a 49-yarder that went wide left Sunday.
But when you have Sanders, you can score from anywhere on the field.
With the Lions backed up at their own 9-yard line because of a holding call on the ensuing kickoff, Sanders exploded off the right side for a 69-yard run and would have gone the distance had Martin Mayhew not had the angle on him to make a touchdown-saving tackle.
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 1994