Bucs use five turnovers to top Lions
Gerald McCoy wasn’t going to lie. He was worried, he said, but who on his side of the field wasn’t once they learned cornerback Darrelle Revis would miss the rest of the game against the Lions with a groin injury? It was only halftime, and the Bucs had built their entire defensive game plan around Revis blanketing Calvin Johnson, who is without a doubt the best receiver in the NFL.
“I was like, ‘Yeessh, yikes,’ ’’ McCoy said as he stood in front of his locker wiping a stream of sweat off his forehead late Sunday afternoon. “I mean, let’s be real: That’s Megatron out there. He’s the best there is. So, yeah, I was nervous. Of course I was. But you know what? We’re a team. We’re not a bunch of individuals. We’ve been saying that all along this year and that really showed today, because our guys really stepped up.’’
Even the most stalwart of Bucs fans might not recognize the names of some of the players who stepped up during a 24-21 upset of the NFC North co-leading Lions at sold-out Ford Field. It was unknowns or forgotten-abouts from the bottom of the roster and the back of the secondary, such as safeties Kelcie McCray and Keith Tandy and cornerback Danny Gorrer.
Along with better-knowns such as linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Leonard Johnson and rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks, they accounted for the five takeaways and the blocked punt that served as fuel for the Bucs’ third straight victory after an 0-8 start. “Those guys, they really stepped up big,’’ McCoy said of the lesser-known players. “And that just kind of speaks to the attitude that we have here, because no matter who we’re facing, it’s not about who we don’t have, it’s about who we do have.’’
Already without starting safety Dashon Goldson (suspension) and middle linebacker Mason Foster (concussion), the Bucs had Revis on Sunday, but only for a while. He was hurt just before halftime after feeling a twinge in his groin while covering Johnson, then straining it one play later. The Bucs, who had built what coach Greg Schiano said was the “most individualized game plan we’ve ever put together’’ in an effort to contain Johnson, responded at first by putting Gorrer in single coverage against Johnson.
That plan was scrapped at halftime, however, when the Bucs decided to insert Banks, a second-round pick in the 2013 draft, into that seemingly winless equation. By the end of the game, it was looking like a move of genius. With three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt already in the books, and with the Bucs holding precariously to a three-point lead, Banks and McCray teamed up for what might prove to be the Bucs’ biggest play of the season.
On third-and-12 from Tampa Bay’s 28-yard line, McCray watched patiently as Lions quarterback Matt Stafford stared down Johnson. McCray broke on Stafford’s release, but quickly realized he wasn’t going to get to Johnson in time to prevent a reception. “Once I saw that he had caught the ball, I just thought to myself, ‘Get the ball loose,’ ” McCray said. “I just wanted to force the ball out somehow and so I just ran as hard as I could and hit him as hard as I could.”
McCray’s hit spun Johnson around inside the 5-yard line. In mid-spin, the ball came out of Johnson’s hands and fell into the hands of Banks, who secured it, ran with it for 15 yards, then fell to the ground cradling it like one might a baby in a hail storm. “I actually thought I played pretty good defense on that,’’ Banks said with a smile. “But really, it was just a bunch of guys stepping up today and making plays and I’m glad I was there to make that one. We’ve had a lot of guys hurt here. But this shows, I think, that by being able to come in here and beat a team like that in their stadium, (we) probably could have been a playoff team this year. We just got off to a bad start.’’
Just like that, though, the Bucs are off to a fast finish. It is virtually an unprecedented one, as well. On Sunday, they became only the second team in NFL history to win three straight after a starting the season 0-8, joining the 1978 Cardinals. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon completed 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He also avoided throwing an interception for the fifth time in his past six games, a big reason for the team’s second-half rebound.
Another is the play of the secondary. Tampa Bay has intercepted seven passes during the win streak, including two that were returned for touchdowns: Foster last week and Leonard Johnson 48 yards for a 17-14 lead just before halftime Sunday. Special teams have played a role, too. The Bucs blocked a punt for the second consecutive game, though Sunday’s block by Gorrer failed to result in a score when veteran kicker Rian Lindell pushed a 35-yard field goal attempt wide left.
After the Bucs got the ball back again on a fumble recovery by McCray, Lindell also missed a 50-yard attempt that would have given Tampa Bay a six-point lead with less than four minutes to play. Schiano decided to try the long field goal, he said, because he had faith not only in Lindell, who had made 83 percent of his field goal tries to that point, but also his defense. His faith in the latter was rewarded when McCray and Banks teamed up to force the takeaway that sealed the victory.
And it’s beginning to look as though the faith the organization showed in Schiano earlier this year might have a reward, too. Schiano had been under fire since the beginning of the season and many thought he might be fired after the 0-8 start, but his players have rallied around him in recent weeks. Now, it seems the team’s owners might be rallying around him, as well. “I think it’s tremendous,’’ co-chairman Joel Glazer said of the victory as he walked out of the postgame locker room. “The guys are hanging in there and fighting to the end. I think that speaks volumes about Greg. (These are) tough times, but the team has never doubted him in the locker room.”