Bucs Team Up to Beat Lions
On Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Tiquan Underwood was asked to describe his team’s game against the Detroit Lions in three words. His reply: “Great team win.” Right on all accounts. The Buccaneers’ 24-21 victory over the Lions at Ford Field was indeed a great win, the most emotionally satisfying outing of the season for a team that struggled through a myriad of troubles en route to an 0-8 start.

Tampa Bay has now countered with three straight victories, and the third one was by every meaning of the word a “team” win. Rookie CB Johnthan Banks’ one-handed interception of a pass that was briefly in Calvin Johnson’s grasp at the Buccaneers’ three-yard line before S Kelcie McCray jarred it loose, sealed Tampa Bay’s first road victory of the season.

It was Tampa Bay’s fifth takeaway of the game – and a blocked punt was an unofficial sixth stolen possession – against zero turnovers by the offense. CB Leonard Johnson returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter S Keith Tandy intercepted a pass at the goal line in the third quarter to turn back a Detroit scoring threat.

The Buccaneers arrived in Detroit without starting middle linebacker Mason Foster (concussion) and starting strong safety (Dashon Goldson) and lost starting left cornerback Darrelle Revis to a groin injury in the first half. But the Buccaneers didn’t want to talk about who they didn’t have; they wanted to talk about who they did have that could turn back the NFL’s third-ranked offense.

The Buccaneers plumbed every corner of their depth chart in order to hold Detroit in check and put together enough offense to come away with the win. Veteran Adam Hayward, for instance, stepped into Foster’s spot at middle linebacker and, just moments before Banks’ interception, broke up a pass near the goal line that Johnson nearly hauled in.

Throughout the game, Hayward saw a number of new faces around him, from CB Danny Gorrer (blocked punt, fumble recovery) to Tandy to McCray to Johnson to LB Dekoda Watson (one of the team’s two sacks of QB Matthew Stafford). “This is definitely a game where a lot of people had to step up,” said Hayward. “I don’t know exactly how many it was, but there were a lot of young faces in there. We had to use everybody today, and it was great because everybody came in and you couldn’t even tell that whoever was out was out. It was awesome to see everybody come together and really play.”

Banks’ interception came at the end of a half that proved to be far more challenging than he could have anticipated. When Revis left due to his groin injury, the Buccaneers shifted the rookie cornerback into every-down coverage of Johnson, the NFL’s leading receiver. Johnson caught seven passes for 115 yards in the game but had no plays longer than 21 yards and never found the end zone. “This was just a great team win,” said QB Mike Glennon, who threw two touchdown passes to WR Tiquan Underwood, the second one an 85-yarder that provided the game-winning points. “Hats off to our defense. Johnthan Banks, after Revis went down, to be put in that situation against one of the best receivers of our generation and to come up with an interception at the end is just amazing.”

Glennon is no longer a surprise contributor, of course, having started his eighth consecutive game, but he continued to build on his impressive rookie season. Glennon completed 14 of 21 passes for 247 yards, two touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions, compiling a passer rating of 138.4. He had to carry the offense with Detroit’s excellent run defense shutting down RB Bobby Rainey and company, and he proved equal to the task. He did so by making sure not to key too much on his top target, WR Vincent Jackson, who was seeing extra defenders throughout the day. Instead, he found Underwood for the big plays and moved the chains with eight completions to TE Tim Wright for 75 yards. “They were keying so much on Vincent that we knew other players were going to have to step up, and both him and Timmy Wright really did,” said Glennon.

Underwood finished the game with 108 yards on three catches, most of it on that big play early in the fourth quarter when he caught a deep pass over the middle and wouldn’t allow two pursuing defenders to catch him. “Offense, defense, special teams…we finally put it all together,” he said. “Each phase of the game stepped up today and pulled out a great win against a good football team.”

The Buccaneers scored first, capitalizing on the their first turnover. After David made a diving interception of a pass deflected by CB Leonard Johnson, Glennon drove the offense 58 yards to set up Rian Lindell’s 38-yard field goal. Glennon threw to Wright four times on the drive, three times on third down, and the rookie’s diving catch at the 25 was the play that got the Bucs into scoring position.

After the Bucs got the scoring started, the two offenses began trading blows in rapid succession. Stafford led an 80-yard drive that ended in a five-yard scoring toss to Burleson, who caught four passes on the possession. Glennon answered immediately with a 47-yard bomb down the right sideline to Jackson that kick-started a quick 80-yard touchdown drive, ending in Tiquan Underwood’s seven-yard grab just across the goal line. Stafford fired back with another 80-yard drive that concluded in TE Joseph Fauria’s toe-tapping 10-yard TD catch in the back right corner of the end zone.

The Lions were threatening to build on their lead just before halftime until Johnson flipped the script with his second career pick-six, jumping in front of TE Brandon Pettigrew to catch Stafford’s pass on the run, and then eluding Stafford’s tackle attempt at the 20. That allowed the Bucs to take a 17-14 lead into the locker room at the half. Detroit reclaimed the lead on their first drive of the second half, as Stafford drove the offense 69 yards on eight plays and finished it with an 18-yard TD pass down the middle of the field to TE Brandon Pettigrew. Stafford tried to go over the middle and into the end zone on the Lions’ next possession, as well, but Tandy intercepted it at the goal line.

The Bucs’ first defensive series was an outstanding one, as Bush’s first run was stopped for loss of two by DE Adrian Clayborn, sandwiched by two passing plays in which quick pressure forced Stafford into throwaways. Unfortunately, Detroit’s defense came out just as strong, forcing a quick three-and-out that included two incompletions in WR Tiquan Underwood’s direction. The first big play of the game, in fact, came on special teams, as WR Jeremy Ross returned Michael Koenen’s punt 42 yards to the Bucs’ 40.

Stafford’s first completion of the game was an eight-yarder over the middle to Burleson, and an encroachment flag on DT Akeem Spence took care of a third-and-one, making it first-and-10 at the Bucs’ 25. Two plays later, Stafford tried to zip a short pass over the middle to Burleson but Johnson reacted quickly and nearly picked it off. The ball deflected several yards away and was caught by a diving Lavonte David, who managed to keep his left arm between the ball and the turf as he hit the ground.

That gave the ball back to the Bucs at their own 22, but the drive moved backward a holding call on G Jamon Meredith that negated a 13-yard toss-sweep by Rainey. Glennon hit TE Tim Wright for a gain of 11 on third-and-15, but an unnecessary roughness call on DT Nick Fairley for hitting the quarterback low made up the remaining yards needed, and more. The play and the penalty moved the ball all the way to the Bucs’ 43, but they soon faced a third-and-five, and Glennon again looked to Wright, hitting him for seven yards and a first down at the Detroit 45. Three plays later, that combination did it again, this time with Wright laying out to make a dazzling catch at the Detroit 25. After calling a timeout, the Bucs took a step back when Glennon held onto the ball long enough to get pulled down by DE Ezekial Ansah for a 10-yard sack. A 14-yard catch by Jackson put the ball at the Detroit 20 but the Bucs had to settle for Rian Lindell’s 38-yard field goal.

Stafford converted a third-and-six after another Clayborn TFL by escaping quick pressure and eventually throwing across the field to Burleson for eight. Three plays later, on the next third down, the Lions ran a perfect screen pass that freed Burleson up for a 29-yard gain. Hustling LB Lavonte David helped prevent a touchdown and even forced Burleson to fumble, but the ball rolled out of bounds. The first quarter came to an end on that play. To start the second period, Stafford enjoyed excellent protection and eventually was able to find a wide-open Burleson down at the Bucs’ 18.

A holding call backed the Lions up 10 yards, but Calvin Johnson’s first catch of the game on a quick slant got 19 yards to the nine. David stopped Bush just short of a first down on a second-and-one run but Stafford easily got the necessary yards with a sneak up the middle, getting all the way to the five. On the next play, Stafford faked a handoff to Bush, wheeled around and threw a quick dart to Burleson, who was wide open cutting across the middle of the end zone.

The Buccaneers answered immediately with a matching 80-yard scoring drive, getting started with another impressive play on a deep ball by Jackson for 47 yards. Glennon converted the drive’s one third down by scrambling out of trouble and improving a 16-yard strike to Underwood at the Detroit 10. Two plays later, Glennon found Underwood again just across the goal line for the go-ahead score.

A shootout began to develop as Stafford came right back with throws of 18 yards to Kris Durham and Calvin Johnson, and a roughing-the-passer call on S Mark Barron added 15 yards to the drive. The Bucs forced a third-and-six at the 10-yard line but Stafford finished off the drive on the next play with a back-corner touchdown pass to Fauria.

WR Eric Page gave the Bucs good field possession with a 44-yard return out to the 39 on the ensuing kickoff, but the offense gave it back when Glennon was dropped for a loss of 13 on a safety blitz and a false start followed before the next snap. The Bucs couldn’t make up the extra distance and had to punt away from their 35. The Detroit punt rush team got a hand on Koenen’s kick, which led to it covering just 29 yards to the Lions’ 36 as the two-minute warning arrived.

A quick slant to Johnson converted a short third down and put the ball just over midfield, with the Lions calling their first timeout with 1:01 left in the half. After the short break, Stafford tried to throw left to TE Brandon Pettigrew, but Johnson zipped into the picture and caught the pass on the run. Johnson just avoided Stafford’s attempt to get him down at the 20, then took it the rest of the way into the end zone for a 48-yard pick-six that gave the Bucs a 17-14 halftime lead.

The Bucs got the ball first to start the second half but it didn’t prove to be much of an advantage when they moved backward in three plays and ended up punting from their 13. Koenen helped with a 56-yard punt that rolled to a stop at the Detroit 31, but Stafford got the ball into Buccaneer territory with a pair of third-down completions to Johnson, the second one a 21-yard play down to the 29. Three plays later, Pettigrew leaped to catch a 23-yard touchdown pass just over the outstretched hand of LB Adam Hayward.

The Bucs got good field position to start their next drive thanks to Eric Page’s 39-yard kickoff return, but they failed to get a first down and had to punt again. The punt pushed Detroit back to their 20, but on the first play from scrimmage Bush found a seam and blasted downfield for 39 yards to the Bucs’ 41. LB Dekoda Watson’s sack nearly ended the drive, but S Mark Barron was flagged for pass interference on a third-down incompletion and it was first down at the Bucs’ 36.

Two plays later, Stafford tried to go deep down the middle to Johnson but Tandy was waiting and he stepped into the path of the ball to pick it off near the goal line, returning it 16 yards to the Bucs’ 17. A 14-yard catch by Wright moved the chains once but a pair of penalties on the offensive line then short-circuited the drive and Koenen had to punt again.

A tipped pass by LB Jonathan Casillas on second down and a great open-field tackle by Johnson on Burleson on third down kept Detroit from getting a first down on that possession. However, Page elected to field Sam Martin’s punt at the three-yard line and was promptly dropped at the five.

That just gave Glennon more room to work with. After one first down got the ball out to the 15, Glennon threw deep down the middle of the field to Underwood, who had gotten behind the defense on a post. The ball hit Underwood in stride and he was able to run away from two pursuing defenders for an 85-yard touchdown.

The Buccaneers then forced Detroit to punt once again, with this stop keyed by Clayborn’s sack of Stafford on third-and-11. The Lions tried to kick it away but Martin was swarmed over by the rush and CB Danny Gorrer got the block. FB Spencer Larsen picked up the loose ball and returned it to Detroit’s 11. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t get it from there to there to the end zone and Lindell subsequently pushed his 35-yard field goal to the right.

That kept the lead at three points, and the Lions took a gamble moments later by going for it on fourth-and-inches from their own 34. Three plays later, Stafford completed a pass to Durham on third-and-11 that would have moved the chains, but Durham dropped the ball as he was falling out of bounds. S Kelcie McCray recovered for the Buccaneers and returned it to Detroit’s 37. The play was reviewed by replay and upheld.