Simply blue
Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times, published 22 October 2007

It was ironic, really. For all of the great things quarterback Jeff Garcia did Sunday against the Lions - completing a team-record 18 passes in a row, throwing for 316 yards while bobbing and weaving through traffic - goofing up two of the easiest plays in football helped beat the Buccaneers.

First, he botched a handoff to Earnest Graham at the Detroit 37. Then he fumbled the center exchange on first and goal from the Detroit 1. Garcia also was kicked in the head by fullback B.J. Askew on the play, losing his helmet. If you're looking for cruel symbolism from Sunday's 23-16 loss to the Lions, that was it. "We had some breakdowns that were obvious to everybody," Jon Gruden said. "We fumbled the ball first and goal at the 1; fumbled the ball in their field position; (had a) punt blocked; (missed a) field goal. You lose."

While Garcia sniffed smelling salts after getting knocked silly on the fumbled snap, the Bucs defense allowed the Lions to march 93 yards for a touchdown that essentially put the game away. In all, the Lions scored 14 points off turnovers - and got a field goal after Josh Bidwell's punt that was blocked by former Bucs defensive lineman Corey Smith in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, three of Tampa Bay's possessions that advanced inside the Lions 40, two inside the 22, resulted in no points. "I talked to (Garcia) after the game and told him, 'This (Bucs) team is going to go as far as you take them,'" Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "He was running all over the place, jumping up and throwing the jump passes and the check-downs. I told him, 'You're a stud. I respect the hell out of you.'"

Garcia might have been the only reason the Bucs were in the game. He completed 37 of 45 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns and extended his streak of passes without an interception to 189, a club record. "Jeff Garcia was superb," Gruden said. "I don't know how much better you can play than that."

Thirteen of Garcia's completions went to Graham, who posted a career-best 191 yards from scrimmage (92 rushing, 99 receiving). Unfortunately for Garcia, the offensive line was a sieve. He was hurried more than 20 times, flushed from the pocket more than a dozen times and sacked three times by former Tampa Bay end Dewayne White.

The second straight road loss dropped the Bucs to 4-3 overall and a half-game behind idle Carolina (4-2) in the NFC South. The victory was particularly sweet for the Lions (4-2) and coach Rod Marinelli, the former Bucs defensive line coach who received his first Gatorade shower as time expired. Afterward, his players presented Marinelli with the game ball. "This is a team game. It had nothing to do with me," Marinelli said. "The least is me."

But Marinelli's influence was evident. The Lions defensive line was relentless. Tackle Shaun Rogers was disruptive against rookie Arron Sears, helping cause the fumbled handoff to Graham. "I saw him, and the ball hit on the top of my arm," Graham said. "Maybe I was trying to make a cut too soon. It was a tough break for us. We were driving. We were doing well, and we let that happen a couple of times."

The Lions sat back in their Tampa 2 defense, content to let Garcia run for his life and check the ball down to Graham. The result was 422 total yards and 11 more minutes of possession time than Detroit. But the Bucs still entered the fourth quarter with only a touchdown thanks, in part, to Matt Bryant missing a 40-yard field goal late in the first half.

"It was one of those games where they weren't going to allow you to beat them deep," Garcia said. "They weren't going to allow one play to be a difference-maker. They were going to force you to earn it, and we weren't able to earn it."

Barry, the Bucs' former linebackers coach and Marinelli's son-in-law, preached the bend-but-don't-break plan all week. "I don't (care) if we give up 700 yards and win the game," he said.

Detroit's game-clinching drive culminated with Calvin Johnson's end-around for a 32-yard touchdown, aided by numerous missed tackles, that gave it a 23-7 lead with 6:28 left. Garcia directed the Bucs to a touchdown and field goal over the next four minutes, thanks, in part, to a perfectly executed onside kick. But the game was sealed when Lions tight end Casey FitzSimmons recovered Bryant's second onside kick.

Garcia dressed slowly and was among the last to make his way to the team bus. "I took a couple of shots," he said. "But it's something I felt I shook off, and I just kept plugging away."

And hoping he didn't get kicked in the head for his trouble.