Bucs Lose Handle on the Ball, First Place
Scott Smith, Buccaneers.com, published 22 October 2007|
The expected excellence of Jeff Garcia wasn't enough to overcome some unexpected bounces by the football on Sunday. Failing in a comeback bid inside raucous Ford Field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost 23-16 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, falling to 4-3 on the season. The Bucs relinquished first place in the NFC South with the loss, as the Carolina Panthers held at 4-2 during their bye week. The also fell to 1-3 on the road this season to balance a perfect 3-0 mark at home.
Garcia, who came into the game with a 103.6 passer rating and zero interceptions, hit on a stunning 37 of 45 passes on the day, at one point tying a team record with 18 straight completions. That helped the Buccaneers rack up 422 yard of offense to the Lions' 278. However, Garcia was part of a pair of fumbled exchanges, one that led to a Detroit touchdown in the first quarter and one that killed a fourth-quarter Buccaneer drive that had reached the Lions' one-yard line.
Tampa Bay came into the game with the NFL's third-best turnover ratio but on Sunday failed to record a single takeaway while being stung by those two giveaways. RB Kevin Jones' one-yard run after Garcia's first fumble was the first touchdown scored off a turnover by a Buccaneer opponent this season. The Lions doubled that total by driving 93 yards for the game-clinching score after the second fumble.
Detroit also turned a blocked punt into the game's first points in the first quarter, one of Jason Hansen's three field goals on the day. Among Garcia's favorite targets, as usual, was WR Joey Galloway, who reached an impressive career milestone on Sunday. During a five-catch, 46-yard day, Galloway's fifth catch, a 16-yarder in the third quarter, put him over 10,000 receiving yards in his career.
Garcia wasn't locked in on Galloway, however. He found Hilliard nine times for 92 yards and a touchdown and also made use of some weapons he had barely utilized before today's game. That included four passes to TE Jerramy Stevens, seeing increased playing time in the injury absence of Alex Smith, four to FB B.J. Askew and 13 to RB Earnest Graham, who had the most prolific day of his career.
Graham ran 19 times for 92 yards and caught 13 passes for 99 yards. Though he narrowly missed a 100-yard day in both categories, the fourth-year back who has been pressed into service by injuries to Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman did tie the team's single-game receptions mark. RB James Wilder also caught 13 passes against Minnesota on September 15, 1985. Graham earned much of his yardage on second efforts, consistently fighting his way through the first tackle.
With the Bucs' offense holding the football for 36 of the game's 60 minutes, a fresher Tampa Bay defense allowed just 187 yards through the first three quarters. However, Detroit put away a close game in the fourth quarter with a 93-yard touchdown march, the longest allowed by the Buccaneers this season. The Bucs trailed by six at the half despite nearly doubling Detroit's yardage total. The Bucs had 247 yards in the first two quarters, including 189 through the air as Garcia pitched an almost perfect first half. Detroit gained 125 yards but scored the game's first 10 points off a pair of drives that started in Tampa Bay territory.
The game got off to an outlandish start. In fact, the second play of the opening drive produced a 20-yard gain, a scramble for the football, an injured player and a fight. After catching a 20-yard pass, WR Michael Clayton was tackled awkwardly and bent hard over his left ankle by an extra hit by LB Paris Lenon. The resulting loose ball was not ruled a fumble, but the aftermath was a scrum of players around T Jeremy Trueblood and DT Shaun Rogers. Trueblood and Rogers drew offsetting fouls, leaving the ball at Detroit's 44.
Two plays later, another wild play erupted. The ball hit the carpet again when Garcia was hit while trying to throw a pass. Several players failed to gather the ball in as it bounded all the way back to the Bucs' 28, where it was eventually recovered by Askew. The lost yardage was erased, but Garcia was sacked by former Buccaneer DE Dewayne White on the next play, forcing a punt. White had all three of the Lions' sacks on the day and also broke up a pass.
That was far from the end of the zaniness. DE Corey Smith, another former Buccaneer broke free up the middle and blocked Josh Bidwell's kick, giving Detroit possessions at the Bucs' 37. After four Kevin Jones runs got the ball down to the Bucs' 15, QB Jon Kitna attempted his first pass on third-and-five. The ball slipped from his hand as he was trying to pull back a throw, and though Kitna briefly recovered it, it came free again and rookie S Tanard Jackson scooped it up and raced 79 yards for a touchdown.
That play, too, was challenged, and once again it was ruled that the quarterback's arm was moving forward. The Lions retained possession and managed to salvage three points on Hanson's 34-yard field goal.
The Bucs, powered by Graham, answered with a healthy drive starting at their own 20. Graham's run for 10-yard run and catches of 14 and nine yards put the ball at the Detroit 37, but the next handoff he tried to take went terribly awry. Garcia and Graham mishandled the exchange and the ball flew forward directly into the arms of penetrating DT Shaun Rogers. Rogers returned the ball to the Bucs' 49 for yet another favorable drive start for the Lions.
Rookie WR Calvin Johnson, the second overall pick of the 2007 draft, caught a 19-yard slant to put the ball inside Tampa Bay's red zone. After Kevin Jones' seven-yard run made it first-and-goal at the one, the veteran back took it in on the next play to give the home team a 10-0 lead 12 minutes into the game. That didn't bode well for the Buccaneers, who have not won a game in which they trailed by 10 or more points in eight years. That last 10-point comeback was against the Lions – a 23-16 victory after an early 10-0 deficit on Dec. 12, 1999 – but it was in Tampa. With the Ford Field crowd at full throat, the Bucs never quite got back into the game.
That doesn't mean the Bucs went quietly. On the drive following Jones' touchdown, Garcia quickly marched Tampa Bay down to the Lions' red zone with completions of 14 yards to Graham and 38 yards to Hilliard. An impressive second effort on a short pass to FB B.J. Askew gave the Bucs a first down at the Lions' four, Garcia overcame a first-down holding call with passes of 10 yards to Graham and four yards to Hilliard for the score.
Tampa Bay's defense responded with its first three-and-out, and Garcia was off again. Completing eight straight passes, Garcia converted a third-and-three near midfield with a pass to Stevens and a third-and-six in the red zone with a scrambling strike to Askew. That put the ball at the Detroit 14, though a post-play late hit moved the ball back to the 29. On third-and-six from the 25, Garcia tried to scramble for the first down and was stopped four yards short by Lenon, leading to a field goal attempt. Unfortunately, K Matt Bryant hooked his 40-yard attempt wide left and the Lions still had a three-point lead at the two-minute warning of the first half.
Garcia's accuracy during the first half reached record levels. After the incomplete pass that was initially ruled a fumble in the first quarter, Garcia completed 18 straight, the team record for a single game. That streak bested a single-game 15-pass run by Steve DeBerg against Minnesota on September 14, 1986. It also tied the overall record, a two-game stretch of 18 completions by Brad Johnson against Philadelphia and Carolina on September 8 and 14 of 2003.
Bryant's miss left the Lions with two minutes to pad their lead, and they did so with a nine-play, 46-yard drive that led to Hanson's 42-yard field goal. DT Jovan Haye sacked Kitna on a third-down play from the Bucs' 21 to at least limit the damage to three points. The Lions got the ball first to start the second half, but a sack by DE Greg White forced them to punt from their own six. That gave the Bucs their first short field of the day, as the drive started at Detroit's 44. Unfortunately, the Bucs' offense didn't immediately regain its first-half rhythm and had to punt after a three-and-out.
After the punt and a touchback, the Lions mounted the first sustained drive of the second half, moving down to the Bucs' five-yard line before the defense stiffened. Kitna's surprising scramble to the Bucs' 14 got the ball in the red zone, but a sack by DT Chris Hovan and DE Kevin Carter moved the Lions back and forced them to settle for Hanson's third field goal, a 32-yarder.
Tampa Bay's next drive got across midfield just after Garcia hit Galloway for 16 yards on third-and-eight. Graham then converted a fourth-and-inches with a tough run over right guard, putting the ball at the Detroit 40 as the third quarter came to an end. An 18-yard run on a delayed handoff by new Buccaneer Michael Bennett got the ball down to the Lions' one-yard line, but Tampa Bay gave the ball away on the next play. Perhaps pulling up too quickly, Garcia lost the handle on the snap before he could hand it to Graham. Jared DeVries recovered for Detroit at the seven-yard line.
Hoping to regain the ball in good field position, the Bucs instead led Detroit out of that hole, as a 14-yard Jones run put the ball at midfield. A Johnson catch gained 18 yards, and then the rookie made an amazing run on an end-around to score on a 32-yard run.
The Bucs were still mathematically alive following Johnson's score, needing 16 points in the game's last 6:38. Garcia drove the team deep into Lions territory again, converting two third downs along the way and absorbing a roughing-the-passer penalty in the red zone to erase a fourth-down incompletion. A well-executed quick slant to second-year WR Maurice Stovall produced a four-yard touchdown – the first score of Stovall's career – but the two-point conversion attempt was incomplete, leaving the Bucs still down by 10 with 2:03 to play.
The missed two-point play was particularly painful when the Bucs successfully converted an onside kick attempt. Bryant simply rocketed the kick directly at a pack of Lions in the middle of the field and CB Torrie Cox easily hauled in the deflection at the Bucs' 40-yard line.
With Detroit's defense guarding against sideline routes and deep passes, the Bucs were able to move into Lions territory with a succession of short passes over the middle. When a short third-down pass to Graham was reviewed and ruled to be short of a first down at the 1:04 mark, the Bucs elected to kick the field goal, knowing they still needed two scores.
Bryant hit a 48-yard attempt straight down the middle to make it 23-16, but the second onside attempt failed when FB Casey FitzSimmons beat CB Torrie Cox to the football. Detroit was able to run out the last 1:04 with a pair of kneel-downs.