Lions survive late comeback attempt from Tampa Bay, move to 7-6

All season, the Detroit Lions have been plagued by poor starts. The 28th-ranked team in the NFL in first-quarter scoring, the Lions come out of the gate sleepwalking and spend the rest of the game digging themselves out of a hole. However, the Lions did the exact opposite against Tampa Bay, starting strong only to allow two Buccaneer touchdowns in the fourth quarter. However, Jim Caldwell’s team managed to sneak out of Tampa Bay with a 24-21 victory.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford came out guns blazing to start the game. He completed his first 12 passes, and his 82 percent completion percentage is tied for the highest he’s had all season, while his 381 passing yards were his second-highest total of the season. Stafford did have two head-scratching interceptions in the second quarter, but also made plenty of big-time throws.

Halfway through the second quarter, Stafford made a play that justified the record-breaking contract he was given this past offseason. On a long 2nd-and-20, Stafford noticed the Buccaneers were running Cover 4 and audibled Marvin Jones’ route into an in-and-out that Buccaneers safety Chris Conte bit on, leading to a beautiful 38-yard-gain, putting the ball on the Bucs’ 5-yard line. One play later, Stafford delivered a 5-yard strike to Golden Tate for a Detroit touchdown.

While his interceptions were inexcusable, Stafford is owed a lot of credit for the victory in Tampa Bay. He was asked to shoulder the load for Detroit’s offense. The running game was once again nonexistent, although running back Theo Riddick did have an impressive 18-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter. The Lions’ 53 rushing yards are tied for their lowest of the season.

Stafford put to rest the notion that the Lions don’t start playing until the fourth quarter, as the Lions led 21-7 going into the fourth. The strong start was also helped by tight end Eric Ebron, who, despite a fumble early in the game, posted career highs in both receptions (10) and receiving yards (94) including seven receptions in the first half. Stafford and Ebron showed great rapport in Tampa. It’ll be interesting to see if Ebron continues to see this increased volume of targets.

While Stafford played a big part in the Lions’ victory, the group that deserves the most credit is the secondary. Darius Slay, Glover Quin, Quandre Diggs and DJ Hayden all made countless huge plays throughout the game. There was even a Teez Tabor sighting, who had a nice pass breakup on the goal line against one of the best wide receivers in the league, Mike Evans. Granted, Buccaneers’ quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t have a great day. He did throw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, but tacked on three turnovers, with two picks and a fumble.  

Diggs lived up to his reputation as one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the NFL as his hit on Bucs tight end O.J. Howard jarred the ball loose – with Slay right there to recover – late in the first quarter. That wouldn’t be either man’s only turnover, either. Slay picked off Winston in the second quarter, as did Diggs on a remarkable diving catch in the third quarter.

Keeping the turnover train going, Glover Quin had a big hit on a safety blitz three minutes before halftime that caused Bucs running back Doug Martin to fumble whichHayden recovered. Hayden would make another big play later that quarter, sacking Winston, which forced Tampa Bay to punt. The entire secondary went above and beyond in making plays against the Buccaneers.

As alluded to earlier, the Lions almost let this game slip through their hands. Two quick touchdowns from Tampa in the fourth quarter made it a tie ballgame in the blink of an eye.

Stafford ended up doing enough to set up kicker Matt Prater up for the game winner with 20 seconds left on the clock.

The Lions will return to Ford Field next week for a rare Saturday game, facing off against the division foe Chicago Bears at 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX.