Bucs Fall to Lions as Another Rally Comes Up Empty
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 11 December 2017

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Detroit Lions, 24-21, on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium despite rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second half for the third time this season and the second week in a row. As was the case in Buffalo in Week Seven and Green Bay in Week 13, the Buccaneers' defense wasn't able to prevent one final answer from the opposition.

Detroit drove 49 yards on nine plays in the game's final three minutes to set up Matt Prater for a game-winning 46-yard field goal with 20 seconds left. While the Buccaneers didn't get the stop on that possession a juggling six-yard catch on third-and-two by wide receiver Kenny Golladay was a key moment the defense fought hard in a game that featured eight turnovers, five by the Buccaneers. "The defense kept putting us on the field and we didn't give up," said quarterback Jameis Winston. "Guys kept fighting and we kept playing to the end."

Winston threw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to tight end O.J. Howard and reserve offensive lineman Leonard Wester to tie the game as part of his 26-of-38, 285-yard day. However, he was also intercepted twice and lost a fumble, and two of those three giveaways led to Detroit touchdowns. "Five turnovers," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "It's going to be tough to win with five turnovers."

The Buccaneers lost in overtime in Green Bay last week after turning a 17-7 deficit into a 20-17 lead. In Buffalo, Tampa Bay rallied from 17-6 down to go up, 27-20, in the fourth quarter but Buffalo scored the game's final 10 points. The Buccaneers also showed plenty of second-half fight in losses to New England, Arizona and Atlanta. That they came up on the wrong side of all those games is the reason the team is 4-9 and out of playoff contention with three weeks to go.

"We played hard, some stuff just didn't go our way," said cornerback Brent Grimes, whose interception was one of three takeaways by Tampa Bay's defense on Sunday. "That's like the story of the year for us."

Tampa Bay generated exactly 400 yards of offense and had 28 first downs, with a third-down success rate of 50%. The running game was solid for a second week in a row, picking up 133 yards and 4.8 yards per tote. Peyton Barber led the way with 58 yards on 12 carries, putting together his second consecutive strong outing, although this time he split carries with Doug Martin (10 carries for 26 yards and a touchdown).

Detroit also had 434 yards of offense and converted 45% of its third downs, but the difference was in the pass rush. The Buccaneers barely pressured Matthew Stafford, who threw for 381 yards despite a hand injury, while Winston was sacked three times and pressured into several of his turnovers. An early-game shoulder and bicep injury to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs' best pass-rusher, didn't help matters.

"I think our biggest issue was we were having a hard time putting the pressure on the passer with a four-man rush," said Koetter. "Forty-four pass attempts, we hit him a couple times but didn't get him on the ground. That's going to make it tough on your coverage. The best way to stop a good passing game is with a good pass rush and we're just not where we need to be right now."

The Buccaneers' offense had five of seven drives end in a turnover straddling halftime. The defense negated much of that damage with interceptions by Grimes and Robert McClain and a forced fumble/fumble recovery by Lavonte David. David know has five forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries on the season. David finished the game with a season-high 14 tackles, while fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander added 12 stops and two tackles for loss.

"We've got our offense's back, regardless," said Alexander. "We're all dogs. Sometimes we'll mess up too and they've got to have our backs. That's part of being a team. That's what we're going to keep doing, we're going to keep having everybody's back. "The defense, I felt like we were doing a great job. We've all got to work together, play complementary football. Once we do that, we'll win."

Rookie WR Chris Godwin had his best game, catching a team-high five passes for 68 yards. The Bucs' second-leading pass-catcher was another rookie, as Howard caught four passes for 54 yards and his fourth-quarter touchdown. In his second game back from a three-week absence due to a right shoulder injury, Winston spread the ball around to 11 different pass-catchers.

The loss was the Bucs' third in a row after consecutive wins over the Jets and Dolphins rekindled the team's playoff hopes. Tampa Bay won't be in the postseason this year or match last season's 9-7 record, but they still have three games left against teams in the NFC playoff hunt. All three are division games, with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town next Monday night, followed by a trip to Carolina and a Week 17 matchup with New Orleans.

"I'm happy that we get to come back home and play against a division opponent," said Winston. "We've still got to finish strong. We can't give up, we've got to keep playing."

The first half of Sunday's game featured a rash of turnovers, with each team coughing it up three times. Detroit scored the only points off of any of those takeaways, however, as Stafford's touchdown pass to Golden Tate followed a Darius Slay interception in the second quarter. Overall, both teams moved the ball well in the first half, with Detroit picking up 261 yards to the Bucs' 204.

The Buccaneers' defense got a three-and-out to start the game as linebacker Kendell Beckwith knifed through a line of blockers to drop Tion Green for no gain on a third-and-one pitch. Unfortunately, the Lions returned the favor; after two Martin runs made it third-and-three, Winston completed a short pass to Charles Sims but safety Glover Quin closed quickly to stop Sims short of the sticks. T.J. Jones fumbled the ensuing punt but it went out of bounds before the Bucs could claim it.

The Lions took their second possession into Buccaneers territory when Stafford hit Riddick on a short pass on third-and-three and he found room to run down the middle of the field for 27 yards. On first-and-10 from the Bucs' 25-yard line, Stafford got a pass off as the pocket collapsed around him and tight end Darren Fells was wide open, catching the ball and rumbling down to the two-yard line. Theo Riddick ran up the gut on the next play to score the game's first points.

The Bucs countered with an impressive 75-yard touchdown drive. Evans caught two passes for 25 yards on the march, including one that converted a third-and-four back in Buccaneer territory. A precise seam pass to Howard got 21 yards to the Lions' 20, and Martin took a short pass over the middle and took it all the way to the five. Martin finished the drive as well, getting to the edge of the goal line on a second-down run and then plunging in over right guard on third down.

Tampa Bay's defense came up with the game's first turnover on the next play from scrimmage. Stafford hit Ebron on a quick slant but David swooped in to punch the ball out of the tight end's hands. After the loose ball eluded several players on both teams, David finally fell on it at the Detroit 39, though an unnecessary roughness penalty cost the Bucs' 15 yards.

Winston made that ground back up quickly, first hitting Jackson on a deep button-hook for 16 yards and then once again finding Howard in the seam. Howard would have had the ball inside the 20 but a hard hit by safety Quandre Diggs dislodged the ball. It was ruled an incomplete pass and an illegal hit on Diggs, resulting in a 15-yard penalty and a first down at the 23. However, Detroit challenged the ruling and won, with the play being ruled a fumble and the foul erased because Howard was not considered a defenseless player.

That turnover gave Detroit a first down at its own 18. The Bucs appeared to get a stop on a third-and-six incompletion but cornerback Ryan Smith was flagged for defensive holding to create a new set of downs. After the teams switched sides for the second quarter, the Bucs got the stop near midfield with the help of two holding calls on the Lions. The resulting punt went into the end zone for a touchback.

Barber got his first action on the ensuing drive and picked up a first down on two strong runs. However, two plays later Winston faked a pitch to Barber and rolled right, trying to hit Jackson down the sideline. Slay slid in front of the receiver to pick the pass off at the Bucs' 48. This time, Detroit converted the takeaway into points. Stafford hit Jones on a deep post to get 38 yards to the Bucs' five-yard line and Stafford zipped a short touchdown pass to Tate just over the goal line on the next play.

Winston completions to Chris Godwin and Freddie Martino for 18 and 19 yards got the Bucs deep into Detroit territory. However, another turnover killed the scoring opportunity. Martin tried to cut back on a busted running play to the right but before he could turn the corner, Quin caught him from behind and chopped the ball loose. Cornerback D.J. Hayden recovered at the Lions' 24 with 3:31 left in the half.

The Lions got the ball to midfield after that takeaway as the two-minute warning arrived. However, Stafford then tried to go deep to Golladay and Grimes made a leaping interception in front of the receiver at the 20. Grimes was tackled back at the 15, and two screen passes quickly got the ball out to the 35. The Bucs appeared to get the ball to midfield on a third-down catch by Evans but the play was erased by a penalty at the line of scrimmage, and a sack of Winston on the next play forced a punt with 47 seconds left in the half.

Detroit got across midfield on the ensuing possession and were in field goal range with 19 seconds left in the half. Out of timeouts, the Lions chose to run a play from the Bucs' 30 and it backfired. Blitzing linebacker Devante Bond quickly set Stafford off on a run and when he tried to zip a sideline pass in to Tate, McClain jumped in front for the interception at the Bucs' 19.

The Buccaneers got the ball first to start the second half but had to start at their own 11 after a holding penalty on the kickoff. A screen to Howard got 11 yards, Barber ran twice for another first down and Jackson ran a sharp sideline out to get the ball close to midfield. However, a Winston pass intended for Howard went over his head and was intercepted by safety Quandre Diggs. Diggs returned the ball 13 yards to the Lions' 47.

The Bucs' defense forced a punt and the offense again got the ball quickly out to midfield. Catches of 11 and 15 yards by Godwin got the ball across midfield. Unfortunately, disaster struck again as Jarrad Davis swatted the ball out of Winston's hand and Tahir Whitehead recovered it at the Lions' 49. This takeaway also resulted in points, with the Buccaneers helping with a roughing-the-passer penalty on a throw-away on second-and-nine resulting in a first down at the Tampa Bay 18. Riddick burst through on the next play to score and make it a 21-7 game.

The Buccaneers were able to answer that score, driving 75 yards on 10 plays and finishing it with Jameis Winston's third-and-goal two-yard touchdown pass to Howard. A 23-yard end-around by Jackson and an 18-yard catch by Godwin were the big plays in the drive, as the Bucs pulled to within 21-14 with 14 minutes to play.

The Bucs' defense got a punt with the help of a holding call, drawn by Robert Ayers, that erased a 26-yard third-down catch by Tate. Adam Humphries fair caught the Lions' punt at Tampa Bay's 28. The Bucs got into scoring territory when Winston threw deep to Evans down the right sideline and Hayden was flagged for pass interference at the Lions' 18. Barber squirted through the line for 16 down to the two-yard line. The Bucs pulled out a trick play to get it in from there, bringing in a jumbo package and throwing a touchdown pass to Wester, a reserve offensive linemen.

Detroit got across midfield on the next drive but punted from the Bucs' 42 and Humphries hauled it in at the 15. The Bucs got one first down on an 11-yard Charles Sims run but then had to punt it back. A run-and-catch over the middle by Riddick quickly got Detroit to midfield as the two-minute warning arrived. Golladay's third-down grab, which was nearly broken up by Ryan Smith, forced the Bucs to use their last two timeouts before Prater hit his game-winner.